A few weeks ago, Donald Trump gave a 95 minute speech to voters in Fort Dodge Iowa.* In this speech, in which Trump sounded a little lubricated, the Don hit all of his usual talking points plus adding to it a newer repertoire that included comparing Ben Carson to a child molester, * dropping the S-bomb when talking about dropping bombs on ISIS, * and calling the people of Iowa, those he wants votes from, stupid for supporting Carson. * The reaction to this around the media was as the drumbeat of doom for a Trump candidacy. A lot of pundits, including yours truly, thought that this was the moment when the Don finally jumped the shark and he was about to hemorrhage supporters… but then it didn’t happen. In fact, his stock went up while his chief rival’s went down. How could this be? Normally, bombastic populism has a shelf life that lasts only until it becomes too repetitive or too offensive, yet Trump thrives with even support from some principled conservatives. Indeed, their support is given in spite of the fact that the substance and detail of Trump’s speeches rarely ever rise above discussions pertaining to a wall, making America great, and the importance of a high energy candidate. Nevertheless, Trump is, according to Reuters, taking thirty-five percent nationally, ** well above his other rivals, and has also closed the elect-ability gap, pulling ahead of Hillary in a potential match up. *** So why Trump? Why has Trump been the recipient of so much unflinching support and what should be done about it, if anything? In the following, I will give my take on the phenomena that is Trump.
At the heart of Trump’s popularity is his political incorrectness. Trump is not averse to insulting the people or ideas that he dislikes, and if you call him out on it, he’s more likely to double down than apologize, i.e. if you accuse him of calling you ugly, he’ll say you’re fat too. The hallmark of the Trump candidacy is in the Don’s refusal to be obeisant to any of the sacred cows of politics. He says it just like he wants to, and no matter how outside the mainstream of polite discourse his words are, he nonetheless benefits. Normally, this is not a good way to instill confidence in potential voters that you are the one with the temperament to be President, but Trump can’t seem to shake loose his supporters. If he balks at the proposal of defunding Planned Parenthood, saying, “We have to help women,” **** even after they’ve been caught red-handed committing multiple systemic felonies (he later claimed he didn’t say this), ***** his numbers are maintained or increased. Similarly, when he came out with a plan for socialized medicine, he scares away few, even among those most opposed Obamacare, the beta version of socialized medicine.****** Under normal circumstances, both these positions would be deeply troubling to most of what now forms Trump’s base, but strangely, it hardly seems to register. Why don’t these policy matters seem to matter to Trump’s followers? I believe that the reason for this is found in our intolerant political culture and in the cult of political correctness that exists in this country. Currently, we live in a land where a loud and self-righteous few seem to be calling the moral shots for everyone else, and as such many people feel marginalized by politicians and the media for their race, religion, and sexual orientation, even though they are the norm. Many Americans are tired of working hard, taking care of themselves and their families, barely making it, only to be rewarded by a collective wagging finger in their face rebuking them for their so-called privilege: if they believe that foreign visitors should respect US immigration laws, they are branded xenophobic, racist, and anti-immigrant; if they believe that the word marriage should apply as it has, between a man and a woman, no matter what other accommodation are made for those that have other preferences, they are labeled bigoted and anti-gay; and if they believe that there should be some restrictions ( however minor) to abortion, perhaps taking the fetus’ ability to feel pain into account before tearing them limb from limb, they are denounced as anti-woman. People with defensible and reasonable opinions have found themselves told not that they are mistaken, but that they are evil to disagree with these self-appointed pontiffs of political purity. Americans are just plain tired of the injustice of having their motivations constantly questioned but their concerns never addressed. And while some candidates, like Bernie Sanders, become timid and submissive in the face of such rabble-rousers, like when representatives from Black Lives Matter took over his platform with threats and aggression, Trump, on the other hand, who is often characterized with ism pejoratives, shows no sign of a similar collapse into a pile of submissive apologies, no matter how loud they shout. Trump chooses to either give them a second dose of acerbic rhetoric or has them thrown out of his rallies. ******* His supporters see him show courage in the face of almost universal condemnation in the media, steadfastness where lesser men would kowtow, and his supporters love him for it. Because of this, his supporters either don’t pay attention to the few policy details that escape from the Trump camp or they’re willing to give great latitude to the candidate that skewers the social cry-bullies.
Another big thing helping Trump is his opposition to and from the Republican establishment. Disappointment is not an unusual thing associated with the typical rank-in-file Republican voter, and this because of a GOP establishment that seems to be expert at pandering to their base, while shortly afterwards surrendering to the other side. It seems that with every GOP election victory, the GOP voter has to think really hard to find something that is better or even different than if Democrats were in charge. I know, some of these political machinations are nuanced, and that there have been causes quietly advanced by the GOP, such as reducing the budget deficit by two thirds, but on many high profile issues such as defunding Obamacare or Planned Parenthood, or stopping the Iranian nuclear deal, there’s inexplicably been very little traction if not capitulation with the Democrats, and this even while there were steps that could have been taken. Simply put: promises were made in an election cycle and promises were broken. There are notable exceptions, such as Senator Ted Cruz (currently in a statistical dead heat with Trump in Iowa), ******** who has made himself a pariah to GOP leadership by trying to force them to do more than have show-votes and pay lip service to their constituents, but by and large the public perception of congressional Republicans is that they have betrayed their voters by not being willing to take a stand. It’s not so much that the GOP is believed to surrender too often as much as it is believed that they never try. Then Trump comes along, calls the career politicians out and positions himself as just the right outsider to give the people the results they’ve been promised. Rankled by this, and also in fear of the loss of potential Latino votes and the loss of wealthy business donors that a Trump candidacy represents through his stance on illegal aliens, the GOP establishment has been attacking Trump. Also, they’ve advocated bringing back last cycle’s candidate, Mitt Romney, to fight Trump since the current crop of establishment candidates have failed to catch on, ********* and in a brazen act of political machinery, the Virginia GOP has tried to institute what amounts to loyalty oaths from their party members to keep them from voting for either Trump or Cruz (the other contending anti-establishment candidate). ********** I understand their fears, if not totally sympathize with them. Trump’s campaign is still weak for lacking detail, and it remains to be seen how far insults and platitudes will carry a candidate who doesn’t have, for instance, the historicity of being the first black president, to buttress his otherwise lacking attributes. If this election is lost, it may be the end of the GOP as we know it and perhaps even the country. However, I think the establishment’s primary fear is winning with Trump rather than losing with him, and the main reason for this, whether it’s that they fear that a President Trump will not be controllable or that they fear he will do damage to the country, is debatable. If the GOP hired me as a paid consultant, I would tell them that if they want to effectively diminish the Trump-candidacy, they should first stop attacking him. Next, they need to immediately replace the GOP leadership in places like the Senate, substituting toxic figures like Mitch McConnell with proven conservative reformers, and do so in a very public way in order to combat the some-what deserved perception that they are an adversary to be overcome by the electorate rather than a champion to be supported by it. I have my doubts that they’d do anything so common sense as that, so great seems their contempt for their own base, but the resignation of John Boehner was a move in the right direction. What the GOP establishment doesn’t realize is that when they strike at Trump, as they irresistibly must do, they will continue have the opposite effect to the one they want, and much like Obi-Wan, will make him more powerful than they could have possibly imagined.
The last quality of the thus far successful cocktail that is Trump is his entertaining personality. His populism wouldn’t resonate with the people for so long if he wasn’t as funny and likeable as he is. Even when he acts like the insult comic of Presidential candidates, he’s still likeable. Whether it’s messing up his hair at a rally to prove that it’s real, getting in zingers at a debate, or appearing on SNL and The Tonight Show to engage in self-deprecating humor, Trump has crafted himself as a likable character which is an advantage he has over the seemingly detached and cackling Hilary Clinton. And as it seems a universal truth that likeable candidates win, while angry or scolding candidates seldom do, this quality, which I confess is the part I appreciate most about Trump, should serve him well. Of course, this feature is not without its downside. Many wonder what place irreverent humor and comedic performances have in a Presidential candidate. But since Nixon’s appearance on Laugh In, *********** Presidents and candidates have appeared on entertainment forums in order to reach voters that they might otherwise not be able to. Certainly, it’s possible for him to overdo this so that he destroys any real credibility that he has as a serious candidate, but as long as he puts proper limits on this kind of exposure, I think that it will only help him.
I am not a Trump supporter, but the idea of a Trump Presidency, going back to 2011, is one that I have believed and do believe could win, maybe. Other than beating Hillary, I’m not sure that the public who would vote for Trump understand all that they would be getting with his Presidency. If they did, I doubt that they would be such ardent supporters as they are now. What I believe will happen with the Trump candidacy is that he will say something so outrageous, that he loses enough primary voters to cost him the nomination. That process may have already begun with his ill-conceived ridiculing of a disabled reporter last week. ************ Even so, I think that Trump will end up having a positive effect on the GOP campaign in that his positions and political incorrectness will rub off, making the eventual nominee all the tougher for it. However, if he does indeed go the distance and become the GOP candidate, I will vote for him. I’d rather give the devil I don’t know a try versus the devil I do, and the GOP should take care that they don’t make an HRC presidency inevitable by running interference in the primary. Of course, I’ll have to hope in Congress to restrain Trump’s more liberal tendencies (repressed shudder). Third parties are out for me, as they should be for all Republicans, because they only help the party you agree with less win, such as in the Wilson election or both terms of Bill Clinton. I have lived through too many years of Clinton incompetence, corruption, and cronyism, and lived too long under the foreign policy disaster that is the Obama-Hillary State Department to give that record another spin. I hope the GOP will see it the same way and stop all this foolish talk about splitting if Trump is the candidate. I held my nose and voted for McCain and Romney; they’d better hold their noses and vote for Trump, if it comes to that.