Trump and the Fate of the GOP

Last week George Will joined David Harsanyi in pouring oceans of vitriol and contempt on Donald Trump and his supporters. Will's dismissal of Trump and those who cheer him on -- dripping arrogance and anger -- seems to be a spreading habit among conservative commentators.  I concede, though, few if any writers ever reach Will's level of sneering contempt, superiority and condescension.

This treatment of the Trump phenomenon, by both Republican Party leaders and many conservative commentators, bodes ill for the Party nominee's chances in 2016. A repeat of the presidential elections of 1912 and 1992 is becoming ever more plausible, whether or not a defeated Trump runs a third party campaign.

Will's approach is no way to deal with a political phenomenon that is a direct outgrowth of deep and intense issue disaffection by voters who are among the Republican Party's most dependable. In a two-party -- hence coalition-dependent -- democracy, it's a basic truth that only the politically suicidal insult and belittle a large segment of their Party's most reliable supporters.

John McCain (Trump’s supporters are “crazies"), a man whose distinguishing political trait is a singular lack of judgment, was only providing another example of his well-known cognitive defect. George Will has no excuse.

The first step to forming a non-destructive response to the Trump phenomenon is to understand why it’s happened -- "recognize" or "admit" why might be better chosen words, because the answer is so obvious. Too many people are spilling too much ink over this very simple question, the answer to which they must know but simply can’t utter. Here it is:

Trump has lapped the Republican field because his supporters are aghast at the Party elite's silence or diffidence in the face of -- or, in the case of Jeb Bush, applause for -- the massive, ongoing unopposed illegal invasion of America across its ill-defended and porous southern border.  Equally galling to Trump's supporters is the Republican leadership's bizarre notion that the primary issue presented by this invasion is deciding how quickly and warmly the invaders are to be embraced, forgiven and accepted as legal residents.

The vast, near unanimous views of Trump’s supporters on illegal immigration can be summed up thus:

The imperative first task is to take all requisite steps, including building a wall if necessary, to stop the inflow of illegals. Until, to an absolute certainty, the invasion has been stopped, nothing should be done to change the status of those illegals already here. And the illegal Obama amnesty order must be reversed. After those tasks are accomplished, next up is to decide who among, how, and under what terms the illegals already here must be required to leave. The third and final job is to settle on immigration criteria, to be adopted as law and rigorously enforced, that will benefit all Americans, not just those who want either more votes (Democrats) or an endless supply of cheap labor (corporate Republicans).

It cannot be said often or strongly enough: These are the views of Trump’s supporters -- Trump’s support surged dramatically only when, however bluntly, he addressed this issue.  But these are not merely Trump’s supporters’ views -- they are shared by large majorities of all likely voters.  See the Rasmussen surveys, linked and discussed below. By refusing to strongly advocate, front and center, the foregoing program, the Republican candidates failed their voters and thus have only themselves to blame for the Trump migraine they are now enduring.  

As the Rasmussen surveys discussed below establish beyond dispute, if Scott Walker, for example, had been credibly championing the above program since the beginning of his campaign, he would now be leading the field by a wide margin, and Donald Trump would be musing about his next big real estate deal. Instead, Walker, who entered the campaign as the candidate most likely to receive the "guts and vision" award for successfully taking on the public employee unions, has allowed someone to transform him into a political eunuch. Perhaps he should take another look at his advisors.

Trump's supporters are the most glaring symptom of a larger truth: On illegal immigration, there is a massive gap between the views of the Republican Party elite -- presidential candidates, party establishment, major donors, and leaders -- and those of the Party’s entire voter base -- including millions of non-Trump supporters, the latter whose enthusiasm for the candidates has been greatly diminished by the wrong-headed pre-Trump silence on the issue.

Anyone who doubts that the leadership/ordinary voter gap on illegal immigration is the overwhelming cause of the Trump phenomenon needs to get out and talk to people who don't hold Ph.D.’s in political science.

Since actually associating with or listening to their voters seems distasteful to many among the Republican Party leadership, a less offensive alternative is available: check out a couple of Rasmussen surveys on various aspects of illegal immigration. Unsurprisingly, in all the media/commentator talk about Trump those surveys have received almost no attention. See, for example here and here. August 2015 and August 2014.

The overwhelming Rasmussen survey results establish beyond quibble that, not only an enormous majority of Republican-inclined voters, but a substantial majority of all likely voters, hold views on illegal immigration -- including border protection, building a wall, deporting illegals, and amnesty -- at least as tough as Trump's.

Among Rasmussen's findings -- which would be surprising only to the private jet/gated mansion/chauffeured limousine crowd -- as of August, 2015, 70% of Republican voters favored building a wall (17% didn't, 13% undecided), while among all likely voters building a wall wins by a mere 51% to 37% with 12% undecided (this is called a “landslide”); further, among Republicans 92% favored deporting illegal immigrant felons (while a mere 80% of all voters would have done so); 54% of all likely voters said that the children of illegals born in the US should not be citizens; and, my favorite from that survey, a mere 60% of all likely voters thought the government was not being aggressive enough in deporting illegals.

Worse still for the judgment and courage of the Republican field, as of August, 2014 -- when a Republican candidate who actually wanted to win the nomination and the election should have been crafting his campaign themes -- Rasmussen determined that a mere 62% of all American voters were opposed to Obama's executive amnesty, while a robust 26% favored it. Sure enough, during the year that's elapsed since that survey, nary a word was audible, let alone a central theme apparent, from any Republican candidate except Trump on the subject of Obama's universally despised executive amnesty.

Finally, from Rasmussen's 2014 survey my all-time favorite:  67% of all likely voters (including 50% of Democrats) think the border must be secured before any discussion of amnesty. But, hey, as George Will might say, Republican presidential candidates don't want the votes of those sorts of people.

Case closed: Tough and uncompromising opposition to illegal immigration is not only the route to Republican Party internal peace (and to its nomination), it is the route to the White House.

The "illegal immigration gap," between Republican leadership and voters, has caused the Trump phenomenon. If a courageous candidate does not step forward and credibly concede that he/she hears the American people on this issue and promises to support them on it, Trump will not go away. He may be beaten, but that victory could well be ashes in the mouth of the Party nominee.

A chasm of this magnitude between party leadership and voters on one of the central issues of our time is not the formula for a successful political party  -- it is the formula for a political party's dissolution.  It happened in the 1850s and can happen again.

A final word to Mr. Will: When party leaders create intense anger and frustration among their voters by ignoring or opposing them on an issue they believe singularly important, don't blame those voters for going elsewhere.  Blame their leaders.