The Trump Freight Train
A Populist Plurality Rolls Over Primaries
“Here comes the orator! With his flood of words, and his drop of reason.” —Benjamin Franklin (1735)
Donald Trump’s campaign is rolling into the primaries with the force of a freight train. It is a case study of how a wealthy, masterful self-promoter can keep himself front-and-center in the mainstream media, and how that keeps him on top in the polls in a field with multiple opponents. Though Trump could buy his way to a Republican primary victory, he won’t have to.
There are three factors propelling Trump’s lead. But first, here is some broad info on Trump.
Beyond all the bluster, he surrounds himself with smart and capable people. He is, first and foremost, a promoter and negotiator — and has cashed in on those attributes. He compensates and treats most of his high-level people well and is liked by them. He can be as amusing as he is annoying. Notably, he has a similar demographic appeal to that of Ronald Reagan. Though President Reagan had a long and distinguished conservative record prior to his election in 1981 — which Trump most certainly does not — Trump does attract “Reagan Democrats,” blue-collar workers who helped secure sweeping Republican victories in 1980 and 1984.
On the flip side, I believe that Trump is a textbook narcissist, as is Barack Obama, and I have grave reservations about trading one for the other — because those with such pathology are driven primarily by self-interest, which may or may not coincide with the national interest.
Having said that, my greatest concern in 2016 is that the Republican nominee be able to defeat Hillary Clinton, or in the event she is indicted, the most likely alternative ticket, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. Trump can defeat Clinton, he will have a much higher bar agains a Biden-Warren ticket, unless Bernie Sanders launches a third-party campaign – which is not likely.
The four factors propelling Trump’s candidacy have created something of a “perfect storm” for him, but there is no guarantee those winds will prevail on November 8, 2016.
1. The Obama Effect
Despite his decidedly liberal “New York values” and the fact that his brilliantly timed and superbly calculated rhetoric is mostly fragrance and not substance, Trump’s appeal is sustained because that rhetoric affirms a broad spectrum of anger — anger that has been seeded by Obama’s unprecedented executive arrogance, and the failure of Republicans to counter his populist policies. So confused are some Republicans that they no longer can distinguish between “conservatives” and “establishment” candidates.
Seven years of Obama’s repressive regime has fomented despair, delusion and division among the ranks of Republican voters – so much so that some are willing to take leave of their senses and join a cultish movement with a self-promoting charlatan as its head. History is replete with examples of such movements, and the tragic result – the suppression of Liberty. Most conservatives, many moderates and even some centrist Democrats are exhausted, and consequently, some will settle for anything other than what they perceive to be “status quo.”
The Obama effect was plain in 2010, giving rise to the most authentic grassroots movement in generations – the Tea Party. As a result, Republicans gained 63 seats in the House, retaking control in the biggest shift since 1948. They gained six seats in the Senate and the gains were wide and deep nationwide, as Republicans picked up 680 seats in state legislative races, an all-time record. That gave Republicans control of a majority of state legislatures and 29 governorships. But, regrettably, establishment Republican leaders in the House excluded the new conservatives from leadership positions.
However, as I warned then, if the Tea Party was coopted by special interests and became an entity rather than a pure grassroots movement, it would divide Republicans. Indeed, in 2012 it did just that. Republicans lost two Senate and eight House seats, while Obama won re-election with a narrow 51 percent of the vote, defeating an outstanding candidate, Mitt Romney, who Tea Party principles labeled “establishment.” So, how did that turn out…?
Because of Trump’s celebrity, he came into the race with enviable name recognition, but his fearless and often inflammatory remarks have propelled the wealthy populist to the top of the Republican heap.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t “wealthy populist” an oxymoron?
In truth, Trump’s support reflects very little about his history or qualifications, but it reflects a whole lot about his message and how dissatisfied millions of disenfranchised Americans are with Republican “leadership.” The status quo represented by former House Speaker John Boehner who splintered party loyalty, and current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has, in effect, underwritten Trump’s rising stardom.
Despite greatly increasing the numbers of genuine conservatives in the House and Senate in the historic “2014 Republican Wave,” bolstering their numbers from the 2010 midterm, the much-loathed remnant of “establishment types” still held the reins and failed to counter Obama’s Socialist Democrat Party policies. Worse, GOP “leaders” marginalized or ignored the concerns of the conservative/Republican base, and we are rightly outraged.
Additionally, if Trump is anything, he is brash — and America is brash. His rhetoric brings some much-needed humor and levity to an otherwise dry quadrennial Republican presidential field. Though his trademark “Make America Great Again” slogan (plagiarized from Ronald Reagan’s “Let’s Make America Great Again” campaign theme) lacks any substantive policy positions or insights to back it up, it certainly resonates with grassroots folks. As National Review’s Rich Lowry concludes, “One lesson of the success of the Trump for president campaign is that as long as you are not making sense with great certainty and forcefulness, no one will care too much that you aren’t making sense. For now, it’s part of the genius of Trump as communicator.”
2. The Large Fratricidal Field of Contenders
Going into Iowa, there were 17 Republican contenders who were fighting each other rather than focusing on their Democrat opponents. That field is now down to five on the Super Tuesday ballots next week — and they have now elevated the infighting to shouting matches.
“The Republican process of picking Clinton’s opponent already has … pruned the field from 17 to five, with only four — Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich (but not Ben Carson) — with arguable paths to the nomination,” notes George Will. But all paths except Trump’s go over dead man’s bluff unless the field narrows to three, and then two, candidates.
Fact is, in national head-to-head matchups, where Trump faces only Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, he loses to both. But as long as Trump has three or more opponents, he’ll continue to win state primaries all the way to the GOP convention.
Shamefully, one of the key factors propelling Trump’s candidacy among the larger field of contenders is the absurdly self-defeating fratricidal attacks between Republicans, most notably Cruz and Rubio. They are grossly violating Reagan’s 11th Commandment on Republican primaries: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
Despite my admiration of Cruz for his conservative credentials, he has driven much of the infighting with Rubio, and Trump has thrived on the crossfire. Cruz has pasted the “establishment” label on Rubio, but if Rubio is “establishment,” then the establishment is now very conservative.
Rubio has a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 98 (out of 100). He has a perfect NRA rating. Citizens Against Government Waste gives him a 95, and National Right to Life gives him a 100. Fact is, he’s a genuine conservative. And it is no small testament to his conservatism that the Koch brothers’ senior political adviser, Marc Short, signed on with Rubio’s campaign this week.
Because Trump defined this race as one about immigration rather than far more pressing national security issues, Cruz has assailed Rubio for his “amnesty” position — which implies a path to citizenship but in fact was modeled after Ronald Reagan’s efforts to provide legal worker status to illegal immigrants.
Fact is, Trump supports the same “amnesty” for illegal immigrants — but with the caveat of a Republican “touchback” proposal first offered by former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) in 2007. As American Enterprise Institute fellow Marc Thiessen wrote in “Trump Supports Amnesty,” Hutchison “offered a ‘touchback’ amendment on the Senate floor that would have required illegal immigrants to return to their home countries to apply for a special ‘Z visa’ that would allow them to reenter the United States in an expedited fashion and work here indefinitely.”
Trump’s son Eric concurred, noting, “The point isn’t just deporting them, it’s deporting them and letting them back in legally.”
The net result of the infighting is that Cruz’s supporters think Rubio is “establishment,” and Rubio’s supporters think Cruz is a liar.
3. Media Propulsion and the Pollaganda Effect
Substance or not, Trump knows how to suck all the media air out of any room where an opponent is present – and if he is the nominee, hopefully he suffocate his Democrat opponent. The mainstream media love him — even those who love to hate him — because, as Trump has oft noted, his media coverage increases market advertising revenues! Indeed, Trump’s media coverage, combined with his loud personality, overshadow that of Clinton and all the other Republican contenders combined. Though he has spent very little on media advertising, it is estimate that his “free” coverage is worth in excess of $2 billion. Trump generates a lot of market share and thus ad revenue for every media outlet from right to left, as noted by CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, who said of Trump’s candidacy, “[Trump] may not be good for America, but he’s damn good for CBS.”
But take note: Virtually none of his adoring media has devoted any bandwidth challenging Trump’s long list of prevarications — at least not yet. And the list keeps growing. Beyond the prevarication is his obfuscation, including his refusal to release his tax returns, which will indicate Trump is not worth as much as he claims – and much of his appeal is based on his “billionaire” persona. But more important, Trump’s tax return would provide clear insight into the organizations he has supported over the decade, and that would create “shock and awe” among his supporters.
If Trump sews up the Republican nomination, the mainstream media will stop appeasing and start eviscerating him ahead of the general election. And there is so much to hang around Trump’s neck that the barrage will be relentless until the last general election vote is cast.
His contradictory positions abound, as we’ve noted in Donald vs. Trump on ObamaCare, on Christianity, on Iraq, and, of course, his shameful practice of playing the “9/11 Card” and the “Veterans Card” when he’s painted himself into a rhetorical corner.
But most troubling is the fact Trump has adamantly denied any and all requests for his tax returns, which will undoubtedly provide the greatest treasure trove of fodder for the media.
For now, the media are content to ride The Donald’s gravy train, but when it comes time to determine our next president, the MSM’s leftist ideology will trump all other concerns. In the end, the media’s shameless and fleeting love affair with Trump helps explain why, according to Rasmussen Reports, more Americans believe media bias is a bigger problem than money in politics.
The net effect of Trump’s 24/7 media coverage is his sustained lead in polls, or what The Patriot Post coined many years ago as the “Pollaganda Effect,” polling as propaganda. This term refers to political polling which often masquerades as “objective sampling,” but in fact includes a particular bias – who is asked what and how. That bias can be driven by ideology, advertising revenue or both – which is to say that any commercial media outlet has an inherent conflict of interest in its polling. Pollaganda depends on outcome-based opinion samples (polling instruments designed to generate a preferential outcome), which in large measure, reflect prior-opinion indoctrination or cultivation by the same media conducting the poll. The incestuous results are then used to manipulate public opinion further by advancing the perception that a particular candidate or opinion on an issue enjoys majority support. Despite the charade, the MSM presents such polling as if it were completely objective.
The Pollaganda process, then, is cyclical and self-fulfilling. The net result in the 2016 campaign is that, at every debate, poll standing has put Donald Trump standing center stage. And consequently, the MSM is, in effect, choosing the Republican nominee.
If you find it difficult to grasp the “bandwagon effect” of political poling and the self-fulfilling cycle it creates, consider this. Virtually every media outlet refuses to publish entrance or exit polling from the time polls open until they close. The standard reasoning offered is that the media does not want to influence the outcome of the election – because they know such polls will either motivate or deter some people from voting. However, the same MSM outlets inundate voters with polling up until the minute election-day voting begins, as if somehow that polling does not influence voters.
4. Clinton is a weak and vulnerable candidate.
So, where does this leave us?
As I asked a few weeks back, “If Trump is the answer, what is the question”?
Fact is, Trump’s supporters are asking the most important questions every genuine conservative is asking. Consistent with The Patriot Post’s mission statement, all of us are asking, “How do we restore constitutional limits on government and the judiciary? How do we restore free enterprise, our national defense capabilities and traditional American values? How do we undo all of the damage Obama has done and correct our nation’s course back toward Liberty? How do we defeat Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders and win the next presidential election?” Of course as I noted two years ago, if Clinton is indicted, the ticket to beat may be Biden/Warren.
Donald Trump is not the answer. But unless the field narrows to Trump and one other contender, he will likely be the GOP nominee. After Jeb Bush dropped out, Trump said, “When others drop out, I will pick up more. Sad but true.” Perhaps the most truthful words he has spoken in this campaign cycle.
“Sad but true,” at least until the field narrows to just two contenders.
On that note, his supporters would do well to grasp the meaning of Patrick Henry’s words on the eve of the American Revolution: “It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts.”
Pro Deo et Constitutione — Libertas aut Mors
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
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