Sunday, August 2, 2015

Thoughts On Trump (and the other candidates)

One of my last lectures/class discussions in my AP US History class last year was looking ahead to the 2016 election. I tried to fit pictures of all of the declared and likely Republican candidates on one PowerPoint slide, kind of pyramid style, with the "important" ones on top with bigger pictures and the less important ones at the bottom. As an afterthought I put a silly little picture of Donald Trump at the very bottom. My students and I had a quick laugh and we moved on to a more serious discussion. No Republican is laughing now. (By the way, I also had to explain who the hell Bernie Sanders was and the students had a laugh at his disheveled photo and then we discussed Hillary's democratic coronation. That conversation would go differently now as well).

For months now media types from all parts of the spectrum (MSNBC to right wing talk radio) have been predicting Trump's demise. This is a joke, right? People are supporting him because he's entertaining, but they wouldn't really vote for him, right? According to the media experts, every misstep is the end of Trump. Out of the gate with his illegal immigrants are rapists ("somebody's doing the raping, Don!") talk. John McCain isn't a hero because he got captured. Stupid statements like these should sink most candidates. Only his poll numbers actually go up after each of these supposed screw ups.

I believe a poll earlier in the week had Trump at 25% in a field of now 17 Republicans, the closest to him was Jeb, behind him by double digits.

Trump is not going away, and I'll tell you why. First, he has a limitless bankroll, and doesn't need to depend on begging for donations to keep his campaign afloat. It can all be self-financed, a la Ross Perot in '92. (In fact, I would not be surprised if Trump starts buying 30 minutes slots in prime time to present his case. Just wait. That is coming.) Secondly, he is a celebrity who knows media. He is the most media savvy candidate on either side. Third, he doesn't have to fight for headlines. He steps on the street and it is a CNN lead. The media is Trump-crazy (not fawning over him like they did Obama, but they can't get enough of him, and that is all he needs). And he is in command when dealing with the press. Did you see the interview he did with Anderson Cooper recently? He mandhandled Cooper. Totally controlled the interview, to the point to where Cooper was trying to point out to Trump where he (Cooper) had in fact been complimentary of Trump in the past. A leading newpaper in Iowa recently editorialized that he should drop from the race, he simply banished any journalist from the paper from any of his events. He doesn't need them like the other candidates do. It matters less that much of what Trump says makes no sense (a wall will be built on the border and Mexico will pay for it!) What matters is when he appears on television he is in command. He has sucked the air out of the Republican race. Rand Paul was reduced to taking a chainsaw to the tax code and Lindsey Graham had to make an SNL-like short getting rid of his cell phone just to get TV time.

Something a little less obvious. Even though I agree more with establishment Republicans, I know how the right wing thinks because I listen to a lot of talk radio. They despise the Boehner/McCain Republicans. They feel like the mainstream media is a Left Wing conspiracy. So the more the establishment Republican Party and the mainstream media tries to dismiss Trump or take him down, the more support he will garner from the right. His "straight talk" style is an aphrodisiac to the angry, politician hating Tea Party/right wing types. And they are loudest in the primaries. Something Trump and Sanders have in common, by the way, is that they have tapped into a Populist anger out there combined with a straight shooter persona when skepticism about politicians is high. Opposite ends of the spectrum, but the populist roots are close to the same. Trump has also mined that old nativist tradition in American politics that has popped up periodically, from the early 1800's, the 1920's, and other periods. The fear that new immigrants ain't like the older immigrants, they will ruin our great nation with their crime, strange beliefs and dangerous political ideologies.

But would Trump get support in the general election? He obviously would have trouble with the Hispanic vote. That is a real issue because it is a crucual demographic for the Republicans in the future. And as I have commented in the past, there are many segments of the Hispanic community that lines up very nicely with Republican values, both social and economic. It is an issue of messaging. Trump has done real damage in that crucual effort. But if Trump were to force his nomination on a cowering Republican establishment, what's their alternative? Vote for Hillary? The hatred for Hillary is so strong that it will bring out much of the Republican base, Tea Party and establishment. (Much like Reagan's 1980 victory was as much an anti-Carter vote as it was for Reagan). The real question is whether Trump could get independent votes, the ones that now determine general elections. His favorables are not strong with independents, but he has time and has exceeded expectations thus far.

This is a fascinating race even without Trump. There are 17 Republican candidates because Hillary is so beatable. I predict that in the end, Biden will jump in and give Hillary a real race on the Democratic side. People don't like Hillary. Polls indicate that over 50% of the American public sees her as untrustworthy. Benghazi and the email scandal are not going away and they shouldn't. She is a terrible campaigner. Her speeches are shrill and dripping with insincerity and poll tested lines. Are you willing to listen to four to eight years of that? Even most Democrats are just lukewarm on her. The alternative to Hillary, until Biden gets in? Socialist Bernie Sanders.

What about the other 16 Republicans? That is sort of the shame here. There are some very good candidates on the Republican side. There is a website with a questionnaire on issues, go here, and there are others out there as well. It matches you up by percentage with all of the candidates based on how your responses match up with their positions. Probably not an exact science, since candidates positions can slip all over the place, but it is fun. I had my students all do it. If you do it, make sure to adjust the priority meter, it makes a difference in the results. Anyway, my results were what I thought they would be. John Kasich was my highest match, followed by Chris Christie. Jeb was fairly high. Hillary was in the middle, by the way, and Ted Cruz was dead last. When I did it in the spring, Trump wasn't an option.

I don't see Kasich or Christie winning the nomination, though. Nor do I see Trump winning it, but the fact that he is in the serious conversation would have been laughable six months ago. Odds on favorites are still Jeb or Scott Walker in the end, and either one should pick Marco Rubio for VP candidate.

However things eventually turn out, the first Republican debate next week is now must see TV, with The Donald front and center.

And one other thing Trump has. He has the nuclear option of running as an independent if the Republican Party "doesn't treat him right". Like Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 and Ross Perot in 1992, that guarantees a Democrat president for the next four years. And the Republicans know it.