What Democrats know (and National Review forgot)

National Review’s attempted destruction of Donald Trump’s candidacy is its worst mistake in the journal’s long history.  Whether it will result in the demise of the magazine – a significant part of Bill Buckley’s noble legacy – is uncertain but at least possible.  If it does, the outcome will be regrettable but just.

Attempting to destroy a candidate who, by far and for long, has been leading the race for the Republican presidential nomination is without precedent in the history of conservative journalism.  It violates the fundamental precept of successful politics in electoral democracies, especially America’s two-party, coalition-dependent system.

Any candidate who brings massive new positive interest in your party, and at the same time has the potential to take a big slice out of the opposition’s pie, is your friend.  Do not insult him (and by inference his supporters).  Instead, figure out how to turn this potentially fleeting gift into a stable electoral advantage that benefits the party’s ultimate nominee, be it the man who brought it or someone else.

Why is it that Democrats understand this principle clearly, while the “best and brightest” among Republicans miss it so often?  For month after month, Bernie Sanders has been peddling an electorally poisonous brew of warmed over Marxism and eat-the-rich revolution, and yet nary a nasty word has been directed at him or his deluded followers by Democratic Party leaders or their partisan journals.

Could it be that Democrats understand much better than Republicans the obvious: that the only standard for success in electoral politics is winning, and a political party has no enemies among its supporters?

Some of the authors of N.R.’s Trump hit piece claim that William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan would be horrified by Trump’s candidacy.  They have the right verb but the wrong direct object: Reagan and Buckley would be horrified, but not by Trump.  Rather, they would be horrified by the political stupidity of denouncing someone who has induced millions of Americans to watch the Republican debates and hear conservative arguments who otherwise would not have and, even more significantly, someone who increasingly appears to have a real chance of bringing back to the Republican fold many hard-pressed working-class and struggling middle-class voters, large numbers of whom have been beyond the party’s reach since Reagan.

Allow me to suggest that N.R.’s editors and writers, instead of carrying torches and pitchforks to Trump’s castle, could better have spent their time honestly asking and answering the easy question: why has Trump happened?

By now, four months and counting since he’s has been running away with the race, the answer should be obvious: it’s both his issues and his manner.

On the issues, the single substantive position that catapulted Trump into the lead – and has kept him there – is illegal immigration.  Trump was just one of the pack, and then he promised to deport the illegals and build a wall.  He soared immediately to the top and has stayed there since.  

It can’t be said often enough or strongly enough: an enormous majority of regular Republican and conservative voters (and a substantial minority of “gettable” Democrats) are deeply disturbed by the apparent decision of America’s political and corporate elites to radically alter the cultural, ethnic, and political makeup of the country as a means of creating an endless supply of cheap labor (Republican elites) and dependable big-government votes (Democrat elites).

That same overwhelming majority of Republican/conservative voters is furious at the party establishment’s multiple betrayals on the issue, from George W. Bush’s sneak-attack attempted amnesty to Marco Rubio’s apostasy on “comprehensive immigration reform” to Jeb Bush’s “act of love.”  The leadership’s illegal immigration war on its voters created a massive opportunity for a Republican candidate to be clear, tough, and believable.  Trump seized it.  Maybe he too will betray us – as the voters must think by now – but the others already have.

Trump only underscored his seriousness on the issue when he doubled down by suggesting at least a temporary halt to Muslim immigration.  From Merkel to Cameron to Jeb Bush to Rubio, the Western establishment is trying to sell the notion that Muslim immigration to the West is benign, but a substantial and growing percentage of ordinary citizens are not buying it.  And increasingly the elite’s substantively empty epithets – Islamophobe, racist, nativist – are met with the indifference they deserve.  To ordinary citizens in the West, importing massive numbers of people from a culture most of whose values are anathema to us, including and especially their atrocious treatment of women, who account for about 99.99% of the acts of terror worldwide, and who want to transplant their 7th-century culture to us rather than assimilate to ours...such an influx doesn’t seem like the brightest idea.

But it is not merely Trump’s stance on immigration that accounts for his rise. He speaks – in phrases and cadences familiar to the non-Ivy League-educated public – of unapologetic patriotism, returning manufacturing jobs to the America, and a desire to be president of the United States rather than of the world.  All of this is welcome, and – the essence of the matter – not merely to regular Republican voters.

And in style, Trump is gloriously indifferent to the elite’s P.C. rules – to which the Republican establishment has so cravenly caved – rules that spell out what people may think, what they may say, and how they must say it.  Trump’s verbal style and P.C. indifference, which reads as “vulgar” to N.R. writers, is a breath of fresh air to an American public fretted with increasingly stifling restrictions on freedom of thought and public discussion.

I don’t know whom I would choose if asked to pick the Republican nominee now.  

But I do know that Trump’s presence in the race, and his startling success thus far, should have provided a road map for the Republican nominee – for the issues, clarity, and boldness needed to prevail in the electoral climate of 2016.  The positions Trump has taken and the forcefulness of his advocacy, if adopted by whoever the nominee is, could bring back the Reagan Democrats, and others, and could produce a substantial GOP presidential victory in the fall.

N.R.’s demonizing Trump is worse than foolish.  It’s political malpractice of the worst sort: a suicidal rejection of a great opportunity to expand the GOP presidential vote.

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