It was possible, in the early days of Trump’s probable nomination, to imagine his general-election campaign unfolding as a radical experiment, a test of the political system’s ability to coax a candidate who had shredded the country’s civic norms back toward the median. But Trump, of course, would not be coaxed — and still, his poll numbers were, until recently, only a few points shy of where Mitt Romney, a candidate who was normal to the point of abnormality, stood at the same junctures in 2012.
Which has left us to consider a much darker question: whether our definition of “normal” politics has been irretrievably altered by Trump, rather than vice versa. “I think one of the greatest dangers of Donald Trump,” Stuart Stevens, Romney’s 2012 campaign manager, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in May, “is the idea that he might normalize a speech and an attitude that as a group in America we have decided is unacceptable.” Whether or not Trump loses on Tuesday, it’s likely that nearly half of American voters will have decided that what he represents isn’t so unacceptable after all.
Charles Homans, “Crossover Act”, The New York Times Magazine (6 November 2016), 16.