- - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Donald Trump is a lot like Barack Obama. Both have moved through the nation’s politics under false colors. Mr. Obama promised hope and change, talking as if he understood and cherished the values, customs and culture of America. Once elected, he revealed that he appreciates none of it, and has governed as if he were an alien dispatched from another planet to transform America.

Donald Trump says he’s a conservative, but his record, before he began to run for president, strongly suggests that he’s mostly in it for Donald Trump. He has learned to talk the talk but has not mastered the walk.

Nevertheless, he appears to be on the cusp of winning the South Carolina primary, and if he does he will go into Super Tuesday, with the South and several Midwestern states up for the winning. If he wins those, it’s difficult to see how anyone can prevent his winning the Republican nomination.

False colors can confuse anyone who is not paying close attention. Republicans who oppose Mr. Trump have good and sufficient reasons. Some are persuaded that he is not a conservative and if elected wouldn’t govern as one. He promised in the wake of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia that if elected president he will appoint someone “just like Scalia” to take his place on the Supreme Court. Maybe he would, but deal makers will say anything, whether they mean it or not, to make the sale. It’s what Mr. Trump calls “the art of the deal.” (He wrote the book by that very name.) Indeed, only last year he sang in the liberal chorus trashing the justice.

Only the foolish, having examined the record, are persuaded that Mr. Trump is a conservative or anyone other than a man looking out only for himself. Republican and independent voters in South Carolina and elsewhere call him a “moderate” because they can’t fit him into either ideology.

Others are skeptical of him for lacking the manner, temperament and fundamental dignity that the nation has always demanded of its presidents. His rough-hewn persona has worked in the early primaries and caucuses because Republican elites have earned a reputation as a party of big talkers and timid actors, and millions of Americans are fed up with them. No one doubts that Donald Trump is a tough guy, in talk and action, but upon close examination he reveals himself to be someone without an anchor. Voters who think this is the man they’ve been looking for risk being burned again, and this time more badly than before. The Republican establishment, often derided as a cult of “country-club Republicans,” doesn’t like Mr. Trump, which only enhances his appeal to the great unwashed.

Against either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, Mr. Trump might even win the election. The public-opinion polls suggest that he would be a stronger candidate than anyone, including himself, could imagine only four or five months ago. Neither prospective Democratic candidate looks to be a barn-burner, nor can the pundits, party wise men or anyone else accurately predict how a new president will perform once he has taken the oath.

Everyone dismissed Harry S. Truman as a hack and a lightweight, the creature of machine politics in Missouri and a rubberstamp for Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he turned out to be a strong president in the face of pressure almost without precedent. Ronald Reagan was regarded as an “amiable dunce,” in the famous description of Washington power broker Clark Clifford, and it was the Gipper who got the last laugh.

The risks and challenges this time are considerably greater than usual, and every voter in South Carolina, and in the primaries in the states that follow, must keep that in mind. The rest of us are depending on them.

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