I suppose that nothing in the world of politics should surprise me any more, but I continue to be amazed by this year’s presidential primary races. It’s odd enough that, on the Democrat side, an Independent socialist is opening up leads in the early voting states while his opponent, the former First Lady and Secretary of State, is under investigation by the FBI. To me, though, that’s nothing compared to the Republican contest, where the latest developments continue to defy all logic and have left me feeling more exasperated than ever.
Since Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential nominee known as a favorite of conservatives, was among those having meetings and discussions with Donald Trump last year, it wasn’t a shock when she announced her endorsement of him a few days ago, but I still think it’s unfortunate that someone with her reputation and potential influence would choose to take this public step to boost him over other more worthy candidates. Also, although Donald Trump’s success to this point has been largely attributed to a view of him as an “outsider” campaigning against Washington and traditional politicians, this week there were multiple stories about current and former Republican officeholders expressing increasing acceptance of the idea of Trump as the GOP’s nominee and, specifically, a preference for Trump over Ted Cruz in that role. This is both disappointing and absurd.
It would seem obvious that the Republican nominee should be, oh, I don’t know, an actual solid Republican and at least generally conservative. Some likability would be nice to appeal to the general public, as well. Yet, for this upcoming crucial presidential election, from an initial field of seventeen candidates, many with stellar records, the voters and the party seem ready to hand the nomination to the person with the least claim to this description. (Based on the way this race is going, it would seem that, if Republicans were in a movie universe and had the opportunity to select a hero to save them from a dire crisis, Captain America, Luke Skywalker, Prince Charming, Spiderman, and many others would be ignored as we chose instead to swooningly make Gaston from Beauty and the Beast our champion.) Over the years, Donald Trump’s affiliation has changed back and forth among the Democratic, Republican, and Reform Parties; he has given a large portion of his donations to Democrats; and, on many, many issues he has taken liberal positions, only some of which he has very recently claimed to have reversed. Besides this, rude and insulting rhetoric has been a notable characteristic of his campaign. How any reasonable Republican or remotely conservative voter could even consider choosing Trump as their standard-bearer over the other candidates, I just don’t know. Yes, you can find imperfections in any of them, although you have to look more closely in some cases than in others, but that’s no excuse for casting them all aside to embrace the option with the most deficiencies and, arguably, the least qualifications. Wait -- could it possibly be the case that Trump’s flaws are so overwhelmingly glaring that they’ve completely blinded his supporters like a flood of “classy” neon lights?
In any case, I think that many categories of people have played roles in Trump’s enduring status as the frontrunner with a commanding national lead, and I can only hope that things will change for many of them before it’s completely too late.
Let’s begin with perhaps the most obvious group: the members of the public who cheer Donald Trump at his big rallies and support him as their choice for president when responding to polls, undeterred by anything he may have said or done. I know that I’m not “supposed to” criticize these folks, but why shouldn’t they be expected to make responsible decisions based on all of the readily available information? I understand that there have been many reasons to be disappointed by the actions or lack of results of elected Republicans (although I also think some criticisms and expectations have been excessive), but that doesn’t justify rallying to someone lacking the qualifications, policy positions, record, or character to be a good president just because he has never held office, criticizes those who have, and isn’t afraid to say whatever he wants to, even if it might be offensive to some others.
Now for the newcomers to the “Trump’s OK” party: people who are part of the so-called “establishment” that Trump supporters so vehemently oppose. With some large donors, strategists, members of Congress and other officials, former party leaders, etc. now making it clear that Donald Trump isn’t their last choice, it’s very interesting to see the reasons they are giving for this judgment, none of which, as you might imagine, I find at all convincing.
I have two comments on the Trump over Cruz aspect of this issue. First, the discussion of this matchup seems to include an assumption that none of the other ten candidates still in the race have any chance, even though we still have had no actual voting. Why get ahead of things in this way, and, if you think that Cruz would be a poor choice, why not try to persuade voters to support one of the other “mainstream Republicans” you think would be better without resigning yourself to accepting Trump? Second, to whatever extent this preference relates to personal issues with Senator Cruz, I think that everyone really just needs to put that aside for now and think about the importance of the ideas and policies that should define the Republican Party and it’s nominee rather than about cordial interactions with individuals. They can all go to relationship counseling later, if necessary. Besides, Donald Trump is spending his campaign hurling plenty of insults at the intelligence and competence of those in the government, so I don’t quite see why they wouldn’t hold this against him, as well.
Some have speculated that Trump would be more likely to win in a general election, but he’s fared poorly in related polls in the past. This could change, since Hillary Clinton continues to face legal trouble and since Trump appears to have some magical ability to turn unfavorable views around even while behaving in an incredibly obnoxious fashion. Plus, because I see Trump as really a Democrat in pseudo-Republican clothing, I suppose it isn’t that far-fetched to imagine some significant number of Democrats voting for him, but how would electing someone because he agrees with Democrats be a real victory for the Republican cause?? It’s also being suggested that others in the Republican Party (Congress, advisors, etc.) might be able to “coach” Trump, make deals with him, or persuade him to take up their policy proposals because he doesn’t have a particularly detailed platform of his own. I think there is a chance this might to some extent be true. Trump obviously is willing to change his tune on most things, even within a day or so, if he gets the idea it will benefit him to do so; he does brag all the time about his wonderful deal-making skills and intentions; and he could certainly use some assistance in the policy department. However, considering Trump’s history, I think it is also very possible that any new shifts of opinion or policy that he would make after securing the nomination would be in the liberal direction and that he’d be at least as likely to work out arrangements with Democrats as with Republicans, especially if Democrat voters were to play a considerable part in his election. Also, Trump has an oversized ego and, were he to become the nominee or even president, would have done so basically by getting popular support from the people when almost no one thought he could with a message essentially consisting of “making the country great again” through his fantastic leadership and ability to be a “winner,” in contrast to the “stupid” people running the country now. He might well consider himself to have a big mandate from the public to do whatever he thinks fit, without the need to take advice from any conventional politicians.
So we have this contradictory situation: so many people supposedly support Donald Trump because they see him as a political outsider who would be a strong, independent leader and totally disrupt a Washington “establishment” that they’ve come to despise; but, at the same time, many members of that very “establishment” see Trump as a moldable politician with whom they could work and get along. Maybe both of these groups need to step back and reconsider their assessment of a man being perceived so differently by so many people. It seems that a lot of observers are projecting whatever they want to believe onto Trump, rather than objectively looking at him, his record, and his statements, and that is no way to choose a presidential nominee. I don’t think it’s really possible to know what such a wild card as Donald Trump would truly do as President of the United States, but I do know that I don’t want to find out, and I think it’s very unwise of some Republicans to suggest that taking such a risk is not such a bad option.
The mainstream media has, of course, contributed to Donald Trump’s success by providing so much coverage of him and his campaign and treating his statements and poll numbers as the focus of the race most of the time. This isn’t particularly surprising, as they will do whatever gets them good ratings. My problem since Trump entered the race has been with portions of the conservative media, particularly some columnists and hugely influential talk radio hosts. In my opinion, it is shocking that they ever treated someone with his track record of un-conservative positions, some of which he has retained even now, as an even remotely acceptable option for the Republican nomination, especially since they’ve had no trouble branding others with much more conservative credentials as unworthy “moderates.” I think that, if they had dismissed or been critical of Trump instead of defending him and providing complimentary treatment of at least some things about him, fewer members of their audiences would have gotten behind Trump’s campaign. I’ve never been able to understand the reason for the way these members of the conservative media have treated Donald Trump. They can’t possibly really think he’s the constitutional conservative candidate they’ve been calling for for years, can they?? They may well have appreciated what they saw as his challenges to political correctness and the way his supporters seemed drawn to his outsider status because they were upset with the way conventional politicians have been handling things. Did they perhaps seek to avoid alienating Trump fans in the hope that this desire for major change could be encouraged but channeled into support for someone they did see as a more ideal candidate, like Ted Cruz? They have recently expressed their dissatisfaction because Trump has, predictably, now turned to attacking Cruz, and, whatever the reasons for their handling of Donald Trump’s candidacy, I wonder if those conservative media figures who’ve been giving him a positive reception have any regrets about it now.
One would think that Trump’s opponents, at least, would be doing all they could to dethrone him from his perch as the front-runner, but, most of them don’t seem to want to take him on, although they’re quite willing to criticize each other. I have cut them a little slack on this for a while, because it may have been a reasonable decision from the standpoint of self-preservation. After all, when other candidates like Rick Perry or Bobby Jindal tried to make an emphatic case against Donald Trump last year, things did not go well, and they had to drop out of the race very early in the campaign. Most of the time, Jeb Bush seems to have been about the only one to offer serious opposition to Donald Trump, and I give him credit for that. In the last couple of weeks, Ted Cruz has finally begun to point out Trump’s lack of conservatism and the problematic positions he has taken, but, since Cruz avoided making these criticisms for the last several months and even offered generic compliments to Trump, I’m not sure how effective his arguments will be now. As for the others, although Trump has seemed to be almost completely immune to any criticisms, I think it is now past time for the remaining candidates to step up and make a serious effort to defeat Trump in the primaries and caucuses. In my opinion, they should join Cruz in challenging Trump, but I’m afraid some of them may instead see the new Trump/Cruz conflict as an opportunity for Trump to help them by damaging or eliminating their main competitor for non-Trump support. To me this is short-sighted, both because anyone wishing to win the nomination is going to need to actually beat Trump, not just everyone else, and also, more importantly, because the good of the country should take precedence over any of the individual candidates’ political ambitions and having a more serious, qualified, conservative nominee than Donald Trump is a first step toward securing a better future for our nation.
So far, though, with recent polls showing Trump may have regained the lead even in Iowa and maintained his dominance nationally, it would seem that the “inevitability” of a Donald Trump nomination is like a speeding locomotive gaining more and more momentum, and I’m not sure what, if anything, might be able to stop it. (Where’s Superman when you need him?) What’s especially troubling, though, is that it appears the will and desire to even try is dwindling away. This week, National Review did publish a symposium consisting of many writers’ pieces giving their arguments “Against Trump,” but the magazine has received some criticism for the decision to issue this collection of articles, and there is no way to know what effect it may have. I, for one, appreciate NR’s undertaking, and I hope that primary- and caucus-goers will give thoughtful consideration to all of the relevant facts and arguments about the candidates before actually casting their votes over the next few months.