The Political Half-Life of Donald Trump
The Political Half-Life of Donald Trump
After predicting the demise of Donald Trump multiple times, the political pundits have begun to cautiously regard him as an inevitability – at least for now. They still see the likely end of the phenomenon of “The Donald” just around the corner. Just give the low information, and by implication the low brow voter enough time, they calculate, and they will eventually see through the thin veneer of a lack of serious policy content from a blustering, vitriolic and downright xenophobic Mr. Trump. But the media and the political analysts are now prepared, largely out of fear of getting it wrong again, to recognize the Republican Party crasher into the banquet room of serious political discourse. No longer is Trump relegated to the entertainment section of the Huffington Post or described as a bloviating ignoramus as found at your local bar by the likes of George Will and Charles Krauthammer.
As if we needed a reminder, the campaign of Donald Trump has been written off successively after each of his unfiltered attention grabbing statements on illegal immigration, on the hero status of John McCain, on apparent mishandling of a question in the first debate by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly about misogynistic treatment of women, on lack of knowledge of the leaders of Islamic terrorism around the world in Hugh Hewitt’s interview, and most recently his apathetic response to an attendee stating at a rally that President Obama is Muslim. On each of these occasions, the media challenged themselves to find new adjectives like imploding, collapsing, fading and ending to describe how Trump’s obviously ill-conceived campaign had committed political suicide. And it’s no wonder as, with few exceptions, the Washington establishment has had a long uninterrupted reign with the American public of deciding whom will be their next candidate. Any outside challenger not anointed by the big money donors is quickly attacked and marginalized by drying up funding sources and promoting negative campaigns in support of opposition candidates.
Jab in Political Eye of Washington Elites
But if there is a willingness on the part of the mainstream media to help bring a hasty end to Trump’s campaign, there is an equal willingness by the conservative media, particularly talk radio such as Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, to articulate the hypocrisy of political correctness in the vilification of Trump. And the conservative voting base so far is willing to stand by their man no matter what. They see in Trump the warranted and long overdue jab in the political eye of a complicit establishment Republican cabal that mounted an ineffective presidential campaign in 2008 and 2012 against a junior Illinois senator named Barak Obama. Conservatives see Trump’s rise as the inevitable result of the Republican Party’s unwillingness to act, with a majority in Congress, to defund Obamacare and Planned Parenthood, and to block illegal immigration, raising of spending limits and the Iran nuclear deal. Trump is a manifestation of the disregard by the intellectual Washington insiders that no longer bother to even pay lip service to the desires of the conservative base that brought them to power. In short, the entrenched Washington establishment is the sickness and the campaign of Donald Trump is the cure.
Mainstream Media Missing the Point
Once you understand this simple premise, you can then begin to explain what the entire mainstream media and Washington establishment seemingly cannot - the American people no longer trust Washington to fix the economy, social security, healthcare and the national deficit. No longer will they elect candidates that act independent of their base. The conservative base is looking for someone to represent them to get the job done and address their concerns seriously. The mainstream media should therefore take note - they care little about political correctness. In fact, many middle class Americans, whites, evangelicals, veterans and even the poor working class feel largely ignored by their elected representatives whom worry more about protecting the rights of legal and illegal immigrants and minority activist groups. Thus, network media demands for apologizes from Trump for making unfiltered statements about immigration only result in an increase in his popularity. And the mainstream media's attempts to punish Trump with public condemnation and boycott of his businesses and Trump’s defiant doubling-down on his original statements results in even more support. The Republication establishment should equally take note – the conservative base cares little about Trump’s lack of experience in government or even his lack of a track record of conservatism - far from it. Time again, we find attacks by establishment candidates and Washington think-tank political pundits analyzing criticizing Trump’s track record in the management of his business, his contradictory statements on political positions, his lack of foreign policy experience and his lack of detailed policy prescriptions for domestic affairs. Accusations of Trump not being a true conservative have been followed by calls for him to withdraw from the Republican Party. Of course, this is only after Trump has pledged to not run as a third party candidate. These criticisms are going nowhere and off handedly dismissing Trump is a mistake.
Trump Viewed as Best Hope by Ignored Electorate
The factors that have catapulted Mr. Trump into the lead are the direct result of these anti-establishment positions. Mr. Trump is viewed as the successful Washington outsider with no direct involvement in the perceived failures of government. Mr. Trump addresses and represents the ignored electorate and talks about making America great. And Mr. Trump is certainly unique. He is the only one that is not supported by special interest super PAC’s and his irreverence and disregard for political correctness makes him the stand out candidate with enough autonomy to change Washington. As a successful builder and business owner, the promise of understanding how to reinvigorate the economy by shrinking government and correcting punitive tax policy is very attractive. Although much has been made of his positions on illegal immigration and birthright citizenship, one could argue that this helped only in the broader context of protecting jobs and demand for higher wages. This isn’t to suggest these things were not a problem however, illegal immigration did not become a focus of attention until Trump raised public awareness of these issues. Ironically, this issue is largely irrelevant in terms of winning the general election. The percentage of Latino vote for the Republican Party has remained largely consistent over the last two election cycles. And according to a recent Gallup poll, about 20% of the general electorate say that immigration is their key issue with 27% of those being Republicans. But Trump’s apparent ownership of this agenda does not guarantee him a win. The underlying issues were, and still remain, to be economic and job related. Healthcare, social security, the deficit and education and national security are also considerations. Trump’s prior celebrity and dominance of the media has helped him maintain his lead effectively squeezing out other would be candidates from media and public debate attention. And with 16 candidates, by commanding most of the media attention, Trump can effectively dominate the lead for some time defying “political gravity.”
Political half-Life of Donald Trump
As the field narrows however, attention to detail becomes more of a factor as the candidates have more time allocated to discussing their policy positions. Mr. Trump, thus far, has seen no need to prepare for debates by researching the issues. While this spontaneity has worked in his favor, as we have seen with the second debate, a solid command of the details and well thought out policy positions helped increase support for Carly Fiorina at the same time drawing support away from Trump. And other candidates are waiting in the sidelines with articulate well developed positions that will more than likely receive attention such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. As outside candidates go, Trump, Fiorina, Carson and Cruz all seem to share a different portion of the electorate as Carson’s increase in polling did not reflect in a decrease in Trump’s numbers. And Cruz has remained consistent at about 6%. This will change as the candidates become more defined.
This all leads to putting Mr. Trump in an uncomfortable position that could finally prove the political establishment correct. His bold, brash, impromptu style requires seemingly ever increasing excitement and audacity and if he is ever viewed as just another regular politician, his base will erode. As the field narrows, he must develop clearly defined positions and have a good command of facts on domestic and foreign affairs. It appears that Mr. Trump is very comfortable in the role of visionary and delegator putting together a team of successful people to advise him. However, it’s not enough to say that he will simply surround himself with knowledgeable people. While this could certainly work, he has to demonstrate his knowledge of the issues while standing next to an effective articulate debater in the primaries and the general election in order to win. While Mr. Trump’s candidacy is as excited, energetic and unstable as radioactive uranium, if he remains on the same course he is today with no deviation, it’s with almost certainty that his popularity will decay at a steady predictable rate after each successive debate leading to the inevitable question - what is the political half-life of Donald Trump.