This presidential race resembles reality TV
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The Republican nomination round in the presidential race ended with shocking suddenness after the primary in Indiana last week, leaving billionaire Donald Trump as the last man standing. He is expected to face Hillary Clinton in the general election. Given this turn of events, we’d like to address several intriguing questions:
A. How did a political neophyte like Trump win, and so convincingly at that?
There is no single answer, of course, but here are what seem to be the main factors:
•Some people saw Trump as a problem solver, straight talker, and man of action. If he sometimes made bold statements and then walked them back only hours later, or sounded vague about things, at least he wasn’t mouthing the usual Republican talking points. Why people support Trump, Bryan Crabtree, townhall.com, 5/6/16.
The American people don’t want a list of hollow promises and step-by-step policy papers that have long proven to be lies. They want a bold vision from someone who is capable of seriously disrupting our political process: Trump.
•Trump’s rivals made mistakes that he was able to exploit. Thus, Senator Ted Cruz seemingly went overboard in alienating the Republican Party leadership – railing against them as the Washington Cartel – and then asked for their support at the end. No surprise, it wasn’t forthcoming. Ted Cruz’s establishment turn, Joseph Rago, Wall Street Journal, 4/22/16.
Mr. Cruz came to a strategic conclusion that he could win the White House by running against the establishment, but the division and fury he and his allies have helped stoke has left the GOP less grand, definitely older and more importantly less of a cohesive party. Thus unity is harder to achieve, even against the threat of Mr. Trump, who a world-historical 65% of the public views negatively, according to the most recent WSJ/NBC News poll.
•Trump brought up several issues that resonated with the American public, notably cracking down on illegal immigration. Immigration update: Border control still top immigration priority for most voters, rasmussenreports.com, 2/23/16.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 59% of Likely U.S. Voters think gaining control of the border should be the priority when it comes to immigration reform. Thirty-four percent (34%) disagree and say it’s more important to grant legal status to those already living here.
•Trump was entertaining, which quality attracted voter support and helped him to get free airtime. Trump can sell a more interesting story than Hillary, Jonah Goldberg, townhall.com, 5/6/16.
. . . Trump bulldozed his way through the primaries in part because the nomination was his MacGuffin [thing the hero wants] and people wanted to see the movie play out. Many voters, and nearly the entire press corps, got caught up in the story of Trump -- much the same way the press became obsessed with the "mythic" story of Obama in 2008. People just wanted to see what happened next.
And lest it be thought that the foregoing points are simply rationalizations of the outcome, note that some observers saw Trump as the likely winner from the start. Here’s why Donald Trump will win the GOP Republican primar[ies], Robert Baillieul, profitconfidential.com, 7/27/15.
Which side do you really think voters are going to side with? The whiny nerds? Or the strong leader? They’re going to go with the strong leader, even if he’s as clownish and ridiculous as Donald Trump. That’s why Trump’s winning. It’s not hard to figure out. And while the Washington establishment scratches their heads at the station this morning, the Trump train is already pulling out.
B. Is Trump suited to be the Republican standard bearer? Opinions run the gamut from highly negative to enthusiastic or at least resigned. Here’s a sampling:
•The only sane choice will be to vote for Clinton while supporting GOP candidates for Congress. Republicans must defeat Trump in November, Linda Chavez, townhall.com, 5/6/16.
Trump is unfit in every way to be president. He has neither the intellect nor the discipline to learn what is necessary to occupy the office. More importantly, his temperament is all wrong. He's vindictive, mean-spirited, vain and unpredictable. He will never put the interests of the country before his own.
•Either a Trump or a Clinton presidency would be disastrous. The only hope is a third party candidacy, which could win enough votes to throw the election into the House of Representatives. [We consider this solution impractical, but the writer’s concerns ring true.] An unmitigated disaster, Thomas Sowell, townhall.com, 5/6/16.
-The old World War II phrase -- "loose lips sink ships" -- applies on land as well as on the water. And no one has looser lips than Donald Trump, who repeatedly spouts whatever half-baked idea pops into his head. A man in his 60s has life-long habits that are not likely to change. Age brings habits, even if it does not bring maturity.
-Hillary Clinton's much-vaunted "experience" has been an experience in carrying out a policy that has failed disastrously from the Middle East to Ukraine to North Korea. We don't need more of that kind of experience.
•For all his flaws, Trump is a better bet than four more years of Democratic rule. Ten reasons I switched to Trump, John Andrews, townhall.com, 5/6/16.
Keep America safe – maintain control of Congress – keep uber liberals like Eric Holder off the Supreme Court – minimize meddling in the affairs of other nations – defeat Jihad – secure the borders – stop grievance group politics – quash “green” energy policies – reject Clinton corruption – recognize that Trump is more likable than Clinton.
•A host of new members/supporters have been showing up at Trump’s rallies; it’s vital to adjust the GOP’s approach to make them feel welcome. Disenfranchising millions of new Republican voters makes no sense, Stephen Moore, realclearpolitics.com, 3/8/16.
I'm not taking sides in this race, and I have policy disagreements with Trump. But I did say publicly last week, to the consternation of many friends and colleagues, that what impresses me greatly about Trump is he is attracting millions of blue-collar, working-class Americans back to the GOP. They are abandoning the Democrats. Hallelujah, right? But all I heard from conservatives was: Why are you standing with these "low-information voters" who don't seem to understand what a fascist Trump is?
Many Republican leaders opposed Trump initially, but are now coming around. Consider the conversion of former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. The GOP establishment’s awkward dance with Donald Trump, Heather Wilhelm, chicagotribune.com, 5/6/16.
-Sept. 2015: Trump, [Jindal] told an audience at the National Press Club, was "dangerous," unhinged and completely unqualified for the White House. ***
"has no idea what he is talking about, he makes it all up on the fly."
-So this week, when asked [on the Sean Hannity show] if Trump could save us all — as an aside, it's ridiculous to think any politician can save us all, but that's another column — Jindal opened his mouth and said the following: "Absolutely, Sean."
And for a more articulate assessment, see “I’m voting [for] Trump, warts and all, Bobby Jindal, Wall Street Journal, 5/9/16.
I understand why so many of my Republican friends are in denial, while many of my Democratic friends gleefully anticipate and applaud defections. The media is poised to reward those “courageous” Republicans ready to do the “right thing” and endorse Hillary. Count me out.
Other GOP leaders who have announced their support for Trump include Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, Reince Priebus, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, and Rick Perry.
Some notable holdouts remain, including two former Republican presidents (Bush 41 & Bush 43), the last two GOP presidential candidates (John McCain & Mitt Romney), Jeb Bush, and Sens. Lindsey Graham & Ben Sasse.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who will preside over the Republican National Convention in July, has reportedly not decided whether to endorse Trump. For his part, Trump hasn’t backed the policy agenda being developed in the House under Ryan’s leadership. The two men are scheduled to meet this week, and will probably forge some kind of détente. Republicans predict Ryan will warm up to Trump, Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner, 5/7/16.
The presumptive nominee is already making threats of what will happen, however, if the meeting with Ryan doesn’t go to his satisfaction. Donald Trump won’t rule out effort to remove Paul Ryan as convention chairman, Ty Wright, New York Times, 5/8/16.
C. What will be the major themes of the general election campaign? Both candidates are well known to the American public, and according to polls they are starting out with unusually high disapproval ratings. Attacks on their respective vulnerabilities will be ferocious, as suggested by the following examples:
•Trump will be slammed for his anti-immigrant and Muslim refugee stance. New campaign ad by Hillary Clinton targets Donald Trump, Abby Phillip, Washington Post, 3/30/16.
"So when some say we can solve America’s problems by building walls, banning people based on their religion, and turning against each other. ... Well, this is New York," Clinton [the narrator] said. "And we know better."
•Americans will also be reminded of Trump’s failure to release his tax returns, involvement in a pending lawsuit re Trump University, and countless off the wall comments about abortion, social issues, international matters, etc.
•Hillary will be blamed for a raft of international setbacks while she was heading the State Department – rise of ISIS, “terrible” Iranian nuclear deal, “reset” with Russia, etc. – and, by association, purported domestic failures including an anemic economic recovery.
•Trump will dwell on attempts to deflect criticism of the Benghazi attack, the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s private e-mail server, cash flowing to and spent by the Clinton Foundation, and personal sleaze. Re the last point, see Trump slams Hillary Clinton as “nasty, mean enabler” of husband’s affairs, Alexandra Jaffe, nbcnews.com, 5/7/16.
[Trump’s] comments [at an Oregon rally] came as part of a defense against recent attacks from Democrats focused on his controversial comments and stances on women's issues. Trump told the crowd "nobody respects women more than me," but in contrast, "nobody in this country, and maybe in the history of the country politically, was worse than Bill Clinton with women." "Have you ever read what Hillary Clinton did to the women that Bill Clinton had affairs with? And they're going after me with women?" he added, incredulously, without citing any specific examples or sources.
But what about the issues, some of which we outlined nearly a year ago? Questions for presidential candidates, 6/9/15.
Here the outlook is murky. Clinton’s policy positions seem fairly clear (she certainly doesn’t favor smaller, more focused, less costly government), but Trump’s positions are largely unknown. His issue-related statements are typically vague, often contradictory, and seem to be evolving now that he has effectively won the nomination.
As a case in point, Trump previously published a tax plan (his most detailed proposal on any issue) and bragged about how it would kick-start faster economic growth. His plan would cut taxes for just about everyone, thereby reducing government tax revenue by about $1 trillion per year. Absent major spending cuts, which haven’t been identified, the deficit would soar. Questions for presidential candidate: taxes, 12/7/15.
Last week, when a TV interviewer asked why he was proposing to cut taxes for billionaires, Trump suggested that the purpose of his plan was to start a conversation and all of the details were negotiable. If so, he might take this opportunity to fix some of the plan’s glaring defects. Trump backs away from elements of his tax plan, Alan Cole, taxfoundation.org, 5/5/16.
If Trump moderates some of the elements of his tax plan, he may want to consider getting rid of the preferential rate for pass through income, which benefits wealthier Americans and encourages relabeling, and also reducing the size of the zero bracket in his plan, which is about four times larger than the current standard deduction, and contributes substantially to the plan’s $10 trillion revenue loss.
Trump also let it slip that he (1) was rethinking his opposition to an increase in the minimum wage (following the lead of the other GOP candidates), and (2) didn’t intend to self-fund his campaign during the general election (notwithstanding previous statements about not wanting to accept anyone else’s money). Minimum Trump; the primary is over, and the Republican is changing his mind, Wall Street Journal, 5/6/16.
Making the media rounds after his Indiana victory, Mr. Trump was asked on CNN whether he’d be open to raising the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. “I am open to doing something with it, because I don’t like that,” Mr. Trump said. “Because I’m very different from most Republicans,” adding that “I mean, you have to have something that you can live on.”
Also, it was time for new tactics to address the fiscal problem, provided the matter was handled judiciously. Trump’s idea to cut $19 trillion national debt: Get creditors to accept less [aka default], newsmax.com, 5/7/16.
"I am the king of debt. I do love debt. I love debt and I love playing with it,” he told CNBC on Thursday. “But of course now you're talking about something that's very, very fragile, and it has to be handled very, very carefully," he said.
If the choice is between an unpalatable known quantity and an unknown & unstable quantity, how are Americans supposed to make an informed choice? Sounds like the election is more likely to be decided based on negative attacks than on the issues.
D. How will the story end? - We won’t attempt to predict the winner, not after the failure of our previous efforts at prognostication. Two fearless predictions about the presidential race, 8/10/15. But let’s consider what some other observers are saying.
One school of thought is that Democrats will win big in November, not only taking the White House but also regaining control of the Senate and substantially reducing the Republican margin in the House. Here are some arguments for this conclusion:
•The Electoral College math favors Democrats, as GOP candidates have trouble carrying any state with a large non-white population. Republicans have a massive electoral map problem that has nothing to do with Donald Trump, Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, 5/2/16.
If Clinton wins the 19 states (and D.C.) that every Democratic nominee has won from 1992 to 2012, she has 242 electoral votes. Add Florida's 29 and you get 271. Game over.
•In the Senate, six Republicans (Pat Toomey in PA, Kelly Ayotte in NH, etc.) versus one Democrat (proposed replacement for Sen. Harry Reid in NV) face perceived “toss-up” races – and several of them are likely to lose. If Trump fared poorly at the top of the ticket, the outlook for the GOP would be even bleaker. Doom predicted for GOP Senate, Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner, 5/5/16.
•Trump isn’t popular with female voters, and Clinton will win them by a wider margin than Obama did in 2012. Some male voters may shift to Trump, but not enough, so he’s in for a shellacking. Politico’s Ben White: Trump will have Goldwater-style defeat, Sandy Fitzgerald, newsmax.com, 4/30/16.
. . . 70 percent of women have a negative view of Trump, compared to 45 percent for Clinton, and in hypothetical match-ups, Clinton is ahead of Trump by 58 to 31 percent.
•The younger voters who have been enthusiastically supporting Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries are more likely to shift to Clinton than to Trump in the general election. Poll shows Millennials would flock to Clinton against Trump, Susan Page & Jenny Ung, USA Today, 3/14/16.
In a hypothetical Clinton v. Trump contest in November, voters under 35 would choose Clinton by a crushing 52%-19%, a preference that crosses demographic lines. Among whites, she'd be backed by nearly 2-1, 45%-26%. Among Hispanics, by more than 4-1, 61%-14%. Among Asian Americans, by 5-1, 60%-11%. Among African Americans, by 13-1, 67%-5%.
Others have countered that it would be a mistake to underestimate Trump, as so many did earlier. The dynamics of this year’s election can and will dictate a different outcome.
•Hillary Clinton’s lead over Sanders is primarily based on super delegate votes; she has lost the popular vote in many states. Why expect her to start winning now? El Rushbo’s argument resembles Jonah Goldberg’s point (noted earlier) that Donald Trump is more entertaining than his conventional political rivals. My gut: Trump beats Hillary in landslide, Rush Limbaugh, 5/4/16.
. . . the media wants Trump in the White House because it's gonna be the most fun four years they've ever had. It'll be fun. They'll try to take Trump out. They'll be able to party with Trump! They'll go to the White House. They'll be able to do everything they do as media; they'll [try to] destroy him. He'll expect it. He'll toy with 'em. They'll get to cover him, go wherever he goes. It's gonna be unexpected, unpredictable, ratings boosts and all kinds of stuff. Make no mistake: In the Drive-Bys, this is universal. There's nothing exciting about Hillary Clinton.
Some observers caution, however,that the media is saving up all the ammunition Trump has provided and will turn on him with a vengeance. This is how Democrats will absolutely destroy Donald Trump if he is the nominee, Benjamin Weingarten, conservative review.com, 5/2/16.
As President Barack Obama did with Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton and a media that has to this point enabled Donald Trump’s rise with $2 billion in free messaging will seek to define Trump so damningly that Clinton will look comparatively angelic — which is saying something — ensuring his fall.
•Factors are at work that aren’t captured by the normal data and models, so don’t be surprised when Trump overcomes Clinton just as he bested his GOP rivals. It’s hard to summarize this sophisticated analysis, but here’s an excerpt that can be checked against events over the next several months. An anthropologist explains why Trump will win in November, Maximilian C. Forte, fabiusmaximum.com, accessed 5/7/16.
Now that options are crystallizing and becoming less hypothetical for voters, now that emotions can finally begin to take a significant shape, expect all of the polls that predicted a victory for Hillary Clinton in November, to start flipping. Within the next two to three weeks, you will see her starting to collapse in the polls, and all summer she will be playing catch up only to be walloped in scathing debates in the autumn. Indeed, as I write this, Hillary Clinton is on CNN being interviewed by Anderson Cooper—almost all of the questions, the day after Trump secured his win as presumptive GOP nominee, are about Trump. Clinton is forced into a secondary and reactive position, of responding to Trump. That already underscores his stature as leader, and hers as something less.
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Well put. Wish I could be on Mars for the next 6 months... or at least in a far away cabin, with no phone, computer or TV. – SAFE member (Delaware)
The trick now is to get the old, stodgy Republicans to risk their careers, such as they are, and take back the White House, which is not necessarily in their interests. Surely they should understand that no one wants a Bush 3. – SAFE director
To borrow a line from Fox News, this election assessment is “fair and balanced.” Well done! Personally, my mind is made up: never Clinton.
As a nation, I think we are at a tipping point. If the GOP loses this year, it won’t have a chance in the future. People on the government dole represent a growing segment of our population and they naturally gravitate to the Democratic Party. The party leadership is well aware of this, and is seeking to capitalize on it.
Consider how Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe decreed that felons who have served their time are entitled to vote. Leaders in the VA legislature are fighting this, McAuliffe somehow reasoned that he didn’t need to consult them, but the move may succeed and spread to other states.
And far bigger results will be achieved when immigrants and refugees are allowed to vote. So if Republicans are going to make a comeback, I think it’s now or never. – SAFE director