The term dog days originated in Greek and Roman times from the rising of the dog star Sirius, just before the sun, in the summer months. In modern times, dog days have been understood to refer to the hot and sultry days of summer when temperature and humidity may have a depressing effect on dogs—and their owners. Politically, the dog days of summer are a time when typically not much happens (except in an election years when national party conventions are held then). Congress flees the Capitol and campaigning generally produces little in the way of lasting news. Is this year different? It may appear so, but one hopes not.
The barking of Donald Trump has filled the airwaves, and we admit to being among the legion of observers who may have underestimated his potential staying power as a candidate. It is a potential that, even at this point, we find as inexplicable as it is dismaying. It appears that Trump is judged by a different standard than other candidates. His pronouncements tend to the crude, flamboyant and incoherent, but his proposals are not required to make any sense so long as they appear to satisfy some “anger” on the part of a portion of the electorate. Trump’s only formal proposal, dealing with immigration, combines the impractical (mass deportation, building a wall across the entire border with Mexico at Mexico’s expense) and the unconstitutional (denying citizenship to children born in this country to illegal immigrants.) Trump’s proposal will have no effect on policy or action in the real world except to further discredit the Republican Party in the eyes of the Latino community.
Nevertheless, the most recent poll shows Trump leading among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents with 24%, ahead of Jeb Bush at 13%. The only consolation is that polling among presidential candidates at this stage is inconclusive at best and more often than not misleading. For example, on August 24, 2011, Rick Perry led Mitt Romney 29% to 17%. We retain the hope that Trumps lead will prove as fleeting as that of other leaders in early polls in prior years (Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani, 2007 and Michele Bachmann, 2011). Nevertheless, the explosive quality of Trumps personal brand of bombast, gives reason to fear that it might do lasting damage before his disappearance from the scene. That fear is heightened by the fact that several other Republican candidates either expressed some support for Trump’s proposal on immigration or criticized it rather blandly.
In particular, some candidates either endorsed the elimination of birthright citizenship or suggested that it at least be considered. If one were writing on a clean slate, a serious argument could be made against such citizenship. But the slate is not clean. The grant of citizenship to persons born in this country is clearly provided by the terms of the 14th Amendment and, whether one agrees or disagrees with that provision, there is, as a practical political matter, no chance whatever of passing a constitutional amendment to revoke it. Accordingly, to urge that such an amendment be passed, or even considered, merely inflames passions without serving any useful purpose.
In a recent column, George Will suggested that the Republican National Committee adopt a rule permitting participation of only those who pledged to support the eventual nominee of the party. As a means of keeping Trump off the stage, the idea has some appeal, but it is probably too late for that. And we would have to admit that if we were on the stage alongside Trump, we could not take such a pledge. While we continue to think it unlikely that Trump could be the nominee, one cannot be entirely certain. We are, however, certain that there are no circumstances under which we could be persuaded to vote for him.