Trump's Lesson for the GOP Establishment
Donald Trump has started a wave. And what the rest of the GOP slate decides to do about it is pivotal.
If Republicans were smart, they’d be wise to apply some lessons from the party that’s actually much smarter at political strategy than they.
Although Democrats call the GOP The Stupid Party, it can’t be denied that most Republicans also think that most Democrat voters are stupid. And actually, the establishment component of both parties doubtless perceives much of its own base as really not very bright.
The important difference is that the Democrat establishment doesn’t care. A vote is a vote, no matter how smart the message, the motive, or the individual -- as long as feet are directed into the booths and fingers placed on the correct buttons. The Democrat-media complex knows how to energize voters across every spectrum. They’ve perfected methods of generating emotion and channeling it into action. They can even take a tragedy to the brink of exploitation and still turn it into a winning political argument.
The GOP, on the other hand and thanks to establishment strategists like Karl Rove, shushes its members if any dare utter remarks or engage in political activities other than what is perceived and pre-approved as sensible, smart and “winning.” And woe to the common Republican who finds himself standing in the cross-hairs of the Democrat-media complex, for the establishment will throw him (and his voters) under the bus for a single misstep faster than you can say “Akin.”
Remember the beginnings of the Tea Party? Tens of thousands of conservative folks, energized and concerned enough to speak out and actively engage in politics. Or Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project? Rand Paul’s filibuster, which had people from both parties standing glued to the TV for hours?
The media complex lowballed the number of those massive crowds and painted them as racists and extremists. The Republican establishment essentially turned their backs on the Tea Party and at times even joined in the ridicule, revealing a glimpse of embarrassment toward their own ranks. Even John McCain called fellow Tea Party-backed lawmakers “wacko birds.”
Why, the GOP establishment appears to ask with noses raised, do so many Republican voters have to be so fringe-y, so backward, so out-of-touch, so “nativist,” that they would react positively when someone like Trump speaks?
Even otherwise brilliant conservative thinkers and talkers sometimes seem more focused on impressing establishment figures and each another with witty put-downs inserted between lines of lofty conservative thought rather than addressing down-to-earth strategy that actually reaches real voters at their doorsteps. Instead, wonks rail about the need for a “bigger tent,” forgetting about all the little people in the base that are still standing beneath it, faithfully holding up the posts.
The establishment seems ashamed of Tea Party grannies wearing red, white and blue beads, kids waving little flags, Confederate-flag-bumper-stickered Southerners, gun-toting patriots, hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone workers, Bible-toters, and even Congressmen like Dave Brat who actually try to accomplish what their Tea-Party constituents elected them to do.
And now all those millions of uncouth citizens outside the beltway (both in geographical and popular digital media realms), barely tolerable if it weren’t for the necessity of their votes, are about to reach their last straw. They’re looking for a voice.
With perfect timing, along came Trump, entering from stage left. He’s loud. He’s brash. He talks directly to folks. And he says -- as Jonah Goldberg recently wrote in his article, “Trump Fans, It’s Time for an Intervention” -- “what understandably angry people want to hear him say.”
Whoa? He says what people want to hear! On immigration, a subject apparently not on the pre-approved list of “winning” GOP issues! How dare he?
But…but…but, the pundits say: Trump’s not a real conservative! His fans need an “intervention” to set them straight.
Or they say, as did Commentary’s Noah Rothman, that Trump’s immigration facts are “anecdotal” and “comforting fiction.” (Ann Coulter, however, has proven Trump correct on many points with her timely new book, Adios, America. In addition, much of the public, whether informed by GOP establishment-approved educational materials or not, has felt the truth, sometimes tragically, behind the facts.)
It sure seems that the real reason many in the GOP are so upset about the reaction to Trump -- and what these writers don’t want to come right out and say -- is that people only think they want to hear what he’s saying, because they’re too stupid to know they shouldn’t. So, the party needs to (1) “neutralize” Trump, (2) convene an “intervention” for the thousands of his supporters, and (3) if they are “temporarily alienated”…well, they’ll come around.
What a great strategy that… isn’t.
Nothing of the sort would be waged by Democrats. For a recent example, look at the massive following of Bernie Sanders and the response, or lack thereof, by the Democrat-media complex. No doubt the Democrat establishment feels the same way about Sanders and his fans as the GOP establishment feels about Trump and his. But you don’t hear talk of “neutralizing” and “temporarily alienation.”
Goldberg went on to praise Arthur Brooks’s new book, The Conservative Heart, noting that “it is almost a mirror image of Trump’s approach. It’s thoughtful, humble, fact- and data-driven, and informed by a deep moral case for conservatism. It won’t satisfy your desire to scream at the opposition, but it will equip you to explain to the opposition why they are wrong.”
Can the opposition really be persuaded by such reasoning? And will it energize the base? The truth is that many people may not be able to clearly or cleverly articulate the “deep moral case for conservatism,” but even so, have been quietly living it. They are authentic witnesses, who when motivated are capable of individually reaching more people right where they live than any book or article or speech, no matter how brilliant.
The Democratic Party doesn’t win because it appeals to reasoning, deep or moral -- and that’s not just because their platform is devoid of it. It’s because, for most people who work in professions other than politics, if it can’t be explained in 1000 words or less or fit on a bumper sticker, it isn’t a winning strategy. Instead, Democrat campaigns do things like highlighting personal stories. They organize and send real people knocking on real doors. They energize people to care about voting.
Trump certainly doesn’t fit the usual GOP mold. He knows how to get attention. He doesn’t let the media control him, and the crowds love him for it. He fires them up. He encourages them to believe they can “make America great again!” He inspires them to get out, engage in politics, and vote.
And I imagine there are many like me who sometimes cheer Trump on, but don’t really trust him or want him to win. We just want the rest of the GOP to listen.
So a note to GOP establishment gurus and campaign strategists: Rather than treat Trump like a threat who’s stealing the show, why not use him as the warm-up act? A very large and growing audience is primed. Don’t douse them while trying to “neutralize” The Donald. To throw a bucket on the fire he’s lit under so many voting feet would be…well, stupid-er than stupid.
The rest of the GOP slate should ride the momentum of the wave Trump has begun, then neutralize him by outperforming him and capturing the attention of his fans with consistent, intelligent leadership.
Candidates standing on solid conservative principles already had conservative minds at “hello.” Now they must speak to their “conservative hearts.”