How Republicans Should Handle Donald Trump
I have a confession to make: I've always liked Donald Trump. It's one of those "guilty pleasures" I've been loath to admit for over 25 years.
I was introduced to the Donald back in the day when he was promoting his first, book and I thought his first name was really "Art," as in Art-of-the-Deal Donald Trump. He was brash, bombastic, and charismatic. He was a teetotaler – at least at dinner parties – not because alcohol is bad for you, but because alcohol is bad for deal-making. I was impressed with him but was unwilling admit it to any of my friends – friends who insisted on calling Trump a narcissist and an opportunist (which he was – and is).
I liked Donald Trump when he and his wife Ivana (a tall version of Zsa Zsa Gabor) were on all the covers of tabloids, newspapers, and magazines. I liked him back when he was pro-choice and was, for all practical purposes, a liberal Democrat. I liked him when he was going through bankruptcy and insisted he was not bankrupt. I detest gambling, but I liked Donald Trump when he was buying land at a discount and building casinos generating astronomical profits. I never watched The Apprentice, but I always stopped whatever I was doing to watch the TV ads promoting the show, just so I could see and hear the Donald say, "Yuh fiuhed!"
I still enjoy Donald Trump. I enjoy his bombast and his perpetual Elvis-sneer. I enjoy the way he comes out swinging whenever he perceives he is being attacked. I'm gratified to see the way Mr. Trump has left the Democratic Party and has become a pro-life Republican. He's not a classic conservative, but he's way more conservative than he once was, and he's way more conservative than any modern Democrat. His style is abrasive and cuddly all at the same time.
When I was a kid, there was a character on a popular TV show who was politically conservative, obnoxious, and insulting, and who had no filter between his brain and his mouth. Archie Bunker said hateful things in a way that made everyone laugh. Everyone who watched the show knew that in spite of his words and behavior, Archie Bunker deeply loved his wife, his family, and his country.
Donald Trump is Archie Bunker. He possesses no filter between his brain and his mouth. He loves his family, his supporters, and himself. Those are some reasons he remains so popular in 2015.
If Donald Trump were a typical politician, he would never have said half the things he's said. Such words would have ended the careers of other politicians. Instead of having his campaign ended over ill-conceived words, he has become more popular. Many of the "experts" have tried to explain why Trump remains popular. Most of them have it wrong.
When pollsters report Donald Trump as the top preference of Republican voters, they also tend to report a liturgy of reasons for his popularity; he has high name recognition, his supporters are seeking an "outsider," Trump supporters are unhappy and disillusioned with inside-the-Beltway politicians. These may be valid reasons for Trump supporters to express their support in the polls. However, this "conventional wisdom" does not accurately reflect the visceral, underlying motivation behind support for Candidate Trump.
Most people who support Donald Trump are not saying, "We love Donald Trump." They are saying, "We hate you, mainstream media!" They are saying, "We hate you, establishment Republicans and inside-the-Beltway politicians and bureaucrats!" The message Trump supporters are sending to the GOP leadership and the GOP establishment is clear: "You don't support Trump? Well, we…hate…you…so we do support Trump!"
The mainstream media will never try to reduce the hatred Trump supporters hold for them, nor will they try to garner their affection. On the other hand, if the GOP does not in some substantive way reach out to Trump supporters, the Republican Party is in serious danger of losing another national election in 2016.
Donald Trump rightly perceived an increasing frustration among mainstream Americans related to illegal immigration. He also perceived increasing anger among mainstream Americans directed at both major political parties in Washington, D.C. Trump is a good businessman. When he announced his candidacy this past summer, he talked about illegal immigration. He recognized he was hitting a nationwide nerve, and he has not backed off. He also is running as a political outsider. He is opportunistic, aggressive, and smart.
In 2012, I believe that Trump mistakenly thought he had an opportunity to garner a following by becoming an Obama-birther. In 2015, it's clear he realized that his birther act was appealing only to a very small number of vocal but insane losers, and he has not brought up the subject again.
The GOP needs to seriously look at those issues raised by Trump that have connected him with his supporters in 2015. Illegal immigration is a legitimate concern shared by a majority of mainstream Americans from every racial and ethnic group. When Trump talks about crimes being committed by illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America, he is addressing something that affects everyone, but especially law-abiding American Hispanics (this may be one reason that Trump is stronger with Hispanic voters than expected).
When Trump talks like an outsider – an outsider who knows how insiders think because he hires lobbyist insiders to work for him – when he portrays himself as an outsider, he is giving voters something they want. The majority of mainstream American voters are not simply disillusioned with inside-the-Beltway business as usual politics; they are mad – fighting mad. Donald Trump (and Ben Carson to a lesser degree) has effectively tapped into that anger and expressed a willingness and a desire to fight.
The Grand Old Party and the other Republican candidates in the field running against Trump need to try to understand that a majority of mainstream Americans, who in the past have voted for candidates of both political parties, harbor an almost incalculable depth of rage and animosity toward the entrenched establishment of both major parties.
Even if Trump does not become the nominee of the Republican Party, he has shown the path to victory that needs to be followed in the general election by the eventual nominee:
- Run a campaign that demonstrates clear opposition to illegal immigration and an uncompromising resolve to fix the problem.
- Run as an outsider committed to fight the dysfunction that inside-the-Beltway politics has become – including going after the judiciary.
- Don't run as a Republican. Run as a mainstream American committed to fighting for mainstream American values – while smiling the whole time.