As the primary season goes on, things seem to grow ever more discouraging, as thousands of voters in state after state cast their “Republican” presidential ballots for a party-switching, flip-flopping, self-centered billionaire with no serious qualifications for the office he seeks. It seems that those supporting Donald Trump do not care what he says or does, what positions or policies he expresses or lacks, or what type of character he has. For whatever reason, they have decided that he is their guy, and they will not be dissuaded. We can desperately hope that this tendency will change and that there are enough other persuadable voters out there to turn the tide and allow another candidate to win the nomination, but I’m not at all confident.
For any members of the public who are actually paying attention and open to logic and reason in selecting a presidential candidate, the events and news of just the past week should have presented enough evidence to disqualify Donald Trump from consideration for the presidency. After he won (sigh...) still more primaries on Tuesday he held a long press conference during which he once again boasted about himself and tried to give a falsely positive impression of the fate of several of his prior failed endeavors (steaks, a magazine, etc.) A reporter has filed a criminal complaint alleging that, at the end of this event, she was handled roughly by Trump’s campaign manager, leaving her with bruises on her arm. The response of the Trump campaign was to criticize the reporter and accuse her of making things up, but corroborating evidence seems to support her story.
Thursday night’s debate was a much more subdued and serious affair than the last couple in the series, with the questions and answers focussing mainly on the policy ideas of the various candidates. If Donald Trump were any other candidate, his performance should have been devastating to his electoral hopes, but I’m afraid that the bar is set so low for him that, because he even attempted to speak about issues, mainly refrained from insulting his opponents, and talked in a calmer tone than he often does, the debate may instead be seen as a demonstration that he can be “presidential” and therefore may actually help him with some viewers. I can only hope that more people will have seen that his answers showed a lack of knowledge, principles, and honesty, and that they will reject him as a presidential candidate, because the debate made these deficiencies abundantly clear.
When Trump’s suggestions that he would impose or threaten to impose large tariffs on foreign goods was discussed, Ted Cruz explained that the result of such tariffs would be increases in prices for Americans, and Trump’s rather puzzling response was that then “we” would build factories in America to make the products instead. (Who would be building them? The government?) Trump also said that he does not want to make changes to entitlement programs such as Social Security and that he would deal with the cost by cutting “waste, fraud, and abuse” and foreign aid. When it was pointed out that those measures could only add up to a fraction of the amount needed to address the entitlement and debt crises, he made some vague comments about the country needing to make better deals. This, of course, is Trump’s “solution” to a wide variety of issues, including foreign policy matters. Regarding the Obama administration’s changes in our relationship with Cuba, Trump said that it was time for something different after so many years but that we should have gotten a good deal. With Iran, too, he’d have negotiated a better deal. Why does he say he’d be neutral between our allies in Israel and the Palestinians? To try to facilitate a deal, if possible. (And, no one should question his pro-Israel qualifications, because he has family members and friends who are Jewish.) On issue after issue, Donald Trump showed no knowledge of or interest in the details, and rather than any lofty principle such as promotion of human rights, his policy suggestions, such as they are, are motivated by “the art of the deal.”
Donald Trump constantly changes his positions and either ignores or denies the things he’s said or done in the past. In addition, he is the epitome of the “crony capitalism” and corruption that many of his own supporters say is such an egregious problem. Just last week, for example, he said at the debate that different types of visa programs for foreign workers were needed, both because America needs to bring in highly skilled workers and because people in businesses like his can’t find American workers to fill their available positions. This week, Trump’s newest take on the subject is that the visa programs are terrible and harmful to American workers and shouldn’t be available for people like him to use, but that, since they are available, of course he has to use them. I really can’t understand why anyone takes this man seriously or why, when he reverses himself so many times, some people are willing to accept whichever version of his comments on an issue are closest to their own beliefs as the definitive one. This example, though, is also another illustration of Donald Trump’s focus on himself. Hiring illegal immigrants or foreign workers and having his clothing lines made overseas is fine for him, but if anyone else does these things, they’re ruining our country. (So much so that Trump even made the supreme sacrifice of giving up Oreos because Nabisco moved some production to Mexico.) Similarly, Trump says that politicians are bought and paid for by donors and claims that he knows this because of his own experiences donating to people in both parties to help himself and his business career. On these issues of undue political influence and of importing foreign workers, Trump claimed on Thursday night that he was the one who could fix these systems because he knows them so well. I suppose some might see this as making some sense, but I strongly disagree and think it really takes a lot of nerve for a candidate to try to turn participation in what he himself is deeming destructive behavior into a job qualification for the presidency.
Since Donald Trump has said that it is important to be flexible in order to get things done, he was asked in the debate about the issues to which he might apply such flexibility, and his answer was that it “depends what comes up.” I don’t think this is particularly surprising, and, since he has changed his tune multiple times on most issues, not just over the years, but also during this campaign, I never would expect Trump to stick to any consistent policy position. One wonders, though, why voters who do support him aren’t bothered by this. Do they just ignore all of the evidence, including his own vows to be flexible, compromise, and make deals with people in Washington, to convince themselves that he’ll do the things they want him to do? Are they as “flexible” on everything as he is? Are they just inexplicably trusting that the great and powerful Trump’s eventual decisions will be the right ones, whatever they may be??
Trump clearly has a habit of saying whatever he thinks is necessary for advantage at a given moment, without regard for the truth or his prior statements. At the debate, he was asked about past remarks he has made regarding the “strong” leadership of people like Vladimir Putin and those in the Chinese government who crushed the protest in Tiananmen Square, and he claimed that his use of the term “strong” didn’t mean that he was saying something good about these figures. While I won’t suggest that Trump’s earlier comments actually expressed approval of all of the actions of Putin or the Chinese government, I think that everything we’ve seen and heard from him makes it clear that calling someone “strong” is indeed a positive appraisal from him. And since, even in this context, Trump contrasted the strength of these foreign leaders with the lack of it he sees in our country, I don’t see how his answers on Thursday would do anything to diminish the concerns people have about his views of authoritarian figures in government.
Donald Trump was also asked about some violent incidents that have taken place at his campaign events recently and whether he thought he’d done anything to foster a climate that would make such things more likely. Trump said that he hoped he hadn’t, but the moderator then read just a selection of quotes in which Trump had said he’d like to punch a protester in the face, suggested that the crowd should rough someone up and that he’d pay their legal fees if they did, and so on. At that point, Trump briefly said something about some really “bad dudes” causing trouble at his rallies and then changed the subject to praising the police for providing security at his events and elsewhere -- an obvious attempt at distraction which still got some approval from the audience. The comments that Trump has been making at his rallies may have been intended as just “tough guy” schtick, but he didn’t stop after physical altercations actually started taking place. In any case, violence isn’t something to joke about, and voters shouldn’t reward a candidate who talks this way.
I must comment on the theme of Trump’s opening and closing statements. He urged Republicans to embrace his candidacy and the dedicated support he has, claiming that he is bringing in many new voters to Republican primaries and caucuses. Personally, I’m not convinced of the wonderfulness of this alleged phenomenon, but that’s a topic for another time. I did think it was amazingly bizarre, though, to hear Trump say that all of these newcomers love the Republican Party. Huh? One of the predominant characteristics of the movement to support Trump is distrust of and even hostility toward the Republican party, with many people even thinking that it would be a good thing if this campaign causes the destruction of the party as we’ve known it! Anyone who really does love the party or the conservative movement should absolutely not fall in line and meekly accept Trump as the Republican standard-bearer.
It seems that there is always more to say about the reasons Donald Trump should not be president, but I’ll move on for now to the other candidates for just a bit. In Thursday’s debate, I’d say that all three of Trump’s opponents demonstrated that they are far more qualified than he is. Senator Cruz had a good night, although I do think that he should not have just ignored Trump’s blunt assertions that Cruz had changed his position on ethanol and supported amnesty. Cruz kept making the point that Trump does not offer real solutions for the problems the country faces, and in contrast, listed many of the things he would intend to do as president. Cruz also took issue with Trump asking voters to pledge their support to him, saying that the candidates should instead be making commitments to support the people, which I thought was an effective point. As for Marco Rubio, I thought that he did a great job in his hometown debate. (Actually, I think that he did quite well in all of the debates, with just a few unfortunate minutes in New Hampshire and perhaps a bit too much cross-talk in Detroit when he was ill.) Rubio pointed out problems with Trump’s approach to various matters, including Social Security and generalized statements about Islam, and offered his own plans and vision for America’s future. Rubio also shared some personal stories and showed that he, unlike Trump, has detailed knowledge of issues, such as the history and status of the U.S. relationship with Cuba. In response to a comment from Donald Trump, he also memorably stated that he is not interested in being “politically correct,” but he does want to be “correct.” Senator Rubio has been in a very tough stretch lately (prompting me to share a defense of him last week,) so I was glad to see him shine under pressure on Thursday.
Commentary about these debates tends to be very contradictory and must be quite confusing for the candidates. Many people said that the debate in Detroit was an embarrassment and lamented the negative tone of the campaign and the conflicts taking place among the candidates on stage, so, in Miami, there was an obvious effort to have more order and civility in the debate. As a result, not only did many seem to find that things were rather boring, but some conservative commentators were frustrated that those pursuing Trump did not challenge him more often and directly. So, one week the message is, “Oh, it’s so terrible that candidates are attacking each other during the debates!” and the next week it is, “Why didn’t those candidates attack the frontrunner? They’re just letting him coast to victory!” I’m all for the challengers taking on Trump, and I didn’t think the previous debates were as problematic as many others did, but what did anyone expect the candidates to do after receiving so much criticism last week? Trump’s opponents did challenge him about policy issues and statements that came up in the debate, which is probably all they really could do under the circumstances. That really should be enough to show voters interested in substance that Trump should not be their choice, but I fear more forceful criticism of Trump and his record may have been necessary to even have a chance of overcoming the advantages he has in delegates, polling, and media coverage in this race.
Events that took place over the weekend, particularly the Chicago Trump rally canceled due to large numbers of protesters and the discussions this precipitated, may have a serious impact on the rest of the primary campaign. I’d like to discuss some of these another time, but I hope that they don’t overcome thoughtful consideration of issues and qualifications (to whatever extent that is actually taking place) and tip things even more toward Donald Trump as we head into an extremely important election day on Tuesday. What happens in Florida, Ohio, and the other states voting this week will play a huge part in determining the direction of the race going forward. Starting Wednesday, I expect there may be plenty of reasons to reassess the situation, and I’ll share some more thoughts about different candidates and possible outcomes after that time. For now, I can only hope and pray that the people in the upcoming primary states will suddenly realize that they should not vote for an unqualified, inconsistent, deceitful candidate whose primary concern is himself, and that they will instead help bring about the nomination of one of the superior remaining conservative candidates. In all honesty, though, I’m afraid that it feels like we are just biding our time until the next round of depressing election results. Please prove me wrong, America -- you still have the chance!