During the past eleven months, Donald Trump has roared through the Republican Party and the country like a political tornado – routing an entire field of Republican presidential candidates, throwing political correctness and conventions out the window, utterly confounding the high priests of the Republican temple, astonishing media pooh-bahs, and driving his political adversaries crazy. His campaign can be summarized by what I call “The Five C’s,” which I shall discuss in the following paragraphs.
1. Crowded field
After a wild primary campaign that outdid anything ever seen in American politics, Mr. Trump has apparently secured the Republican nomination for the presidency. When the race began, in 2015, several familiar hats were thrown into the ring, early on. Senator Ted Cruz was the first to declare, on March 23. Then came Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, on April 7 and 13, followed by Dr. Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Mike Huckabee, on May 4 & 5. Rick Santorum and George Pataki declared on May 27 and 28; then Senator Lindsey Graham and Governor Rick Perry on June 1 and June 4.
Thus, when Mr. Trump announced his candidacy, ten Republican candidates were already in the race. Eight were well known, experienced politicians. Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson were not politicians, but were otherwise well known to the public: Mrs. Fiorina for having been CEO of Hewlett-Packard, and Dr. Carson for being a famous surgeon with an international reputation.
After Mr. Trump declared, six more Republican candidates jumped in. Governors Christie and Jindal, and former Governor Jeb Bush declared later in June; Governors Scott Walker and John Kasich, plus former Governor Jim Gilmore, in July. Mr. Trump was famous, too – as a billionaire real-estate developer and reality-TV personality. His name had become a household word – mostly for the popular show, “The Apprentice,” in which many episodes concluded with Mr. Trump dramatically “firing” some underling. (Audiences seemed to love the show – I suspect because someone else got fired, not themselves.)
Pundits and political wise men scoffed at Mr. Trump’s candidacy, suggesting that it was just a publicity stunt intended to boost Mr. Trump’s media ratings and income. In the early betting, no serious political analyst thought it remotely possible that he could actually win the nomination. The consensus seemed to be that Mr. Trump would stay in the race for a few months, until he said something really stupid that blew up his candidacy, or until he tired of an environment where people didn’t ask, “how high?” when he told them to jump. His candidacy was widely regarded as an elaborate – admittedly expensive – joke. It absolutely couldn’t last.
Democrats ignored Mr. Trump until he began to attract large crowds and media attention for his colorful style and take-no-prisoners treatment of various political “sacred cows” – notably illegal immigration and Islamic terrorism. From the very start of his campaign, Mr. Trump came out swinging with statements that might have destroyed most campaigns. Observing that all terrorists were obviously followers of Islam, he vowed to cut off all immigration of Muslims until we could figure out “what the hell is going on” (a purely religious statement, one pundit joked). He also said we would build a wall on our southern border, declaring that Mexico would pay for it.
In response, big media went absolutely nuts, denouncing his hateful speech and sobbing (sometimes on-air) that “this is not who we are” as “a nation of immigrants.” Politicians of both parties deplored over these “insensitive” and “racist” statements, and scolded Mr. Trump for spouting such political blasphemy. Eager young reporters camped out at Mr. Trump’s rallies, hoping to goad him into saying something off the wall that would finally sink his bizarre campaign. But even when he did say something radical, the frustrating result seemed to be increased public support, not a destroyed campaign.
Most media figures and politicians seemed to miss the fact that many Republicans and independents, and growing numbers of Democrats, agreed with what Mr. Trump was saying and liked hearing straight talk from someone who wasn’t trying the “straddle” issues, as many politicians do. People fear Islamist terrorism, as more of it hits their towns and marketplaces. They feel unsafe rubbing shoulders with Middle-eastern people with unknown political leanings, backgrounds and intentions. Unlike the political class and the faculty-lounge set, who feel immune from bomb-wearing terrorists, ordinary people know that the people who cross our borders and join our communities receive very little scrutiny. They see illegals working for peanuts at jobs their teenagers should be filling. They’re “mad as hell,” and they won’t take it any longer. Mr. Trump speaks to and for them. His message resonates across the “normal culture” of America.
At the start of primary-voting, Mr. Trump drew relatively low percentages of Republican voters in each state. “Aha! You see, his candidacy has no traction,” said the pundits. “He’ll fade out; he’ll die on the vine…” In Iowa (Feb. 1), Mr. Trump, Sen. Rubio and Sen. Cruz won 7, 7, and 8 delegates, respectively, apparently confirming the “fadeout” prediction. Reporters began to speculate on when Mr. Trump would pull out. But instead he began to pull away, winning 11 of 19 delegates in New Hampshire (Feb. 9) and all 50 delegates in South Carolina (Feb. 20). Voters began to move toward Mr. Trump as the race progressed, and candidates from the crowded field started to drop out. Senator Cruz won in his home state of Texas (March 1), and Gov. Kasich won in Ohio (March 15). But after Senator Rubio failed to win in his home state of Florida (March 15), he suspended his campaign. Senator Cruz finally left the race on May 3, and Gov. Kasich did the same on May 4. Neither man saw a path to the nomination
At this writing, with only a few states yet to vote, the tally shows Mr. Trump with 1,239 pledged delegates, Senator Cruz with 551, Senator Rubio 167, and Gov. Kasich 161. (1237 are needed to win on the convention’s first ballot.) Only some entirely unforeseen event can deny Mr. Trump the nomination. Senator Cruz and Gov. Kasich had hung on long after it became clear that they couldn’t possibly reach 1237 delegates. They hoped that together they might win enough delegates to deny Mr. Trump a first-ballot victory and force a “brokered” convention in which delegates would be released from their original commitments. Each man – but particularly Gov. Kasich – thought he might be the choice of such a convention if party bigwigs thought Mr. Trump unsuitable.
As the primaries played out, however, Mr. Trump’s strength and appeal – even with voters outside the party – was growing. When this became obvious, the buzz inside the GOP for an open convention to choose an “alternative” to Mr. Trump began to wane. Old pros warned that should Mr. Trump reach the convention just a few delegates short of 1237, denying him the nomination might split the party and guarantee a victory for Hillary Clinton. Although a few holdouts still talked darkly about a third-party candidate, wiser heads finally prevailed. The impossible had happened: Mr. Trump had clinched.
4. Consternation (and non-coronation).
Although she will almost certainly be the Democrats’ candidate, Mrs. Clinton has been unable to put away her pesky opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders. At the start of the primaries, Clinton-strategists probably thought Senator Sanders would be a useful foil for Mrs. Clinton’s steel. But the senator, an avowed socialist and unexpectedly vigorous advocate, has turned out to be much more than that. Drawing huge crowds of young people who wouldn’t know socialism from social studies, he has become a genuine danger to the Hillary Express. This is alarming, since she was counting on the youth vote to carry her to victory. What the socialism the senator is selling sounds to his young acolytes like a wonderful new idea that has never been tried. Collegians who have never worked for a buck think it sounds so fair, so right, so just. They evidently don’t know that it’s an old idea that has been repeatedly tried and found wanting. They are dazzled by the Senator’s promises of free everything – paid for by the filthy rich – and his vow to “change the country,” presumably in their favor. (Haven’t we heard all this before?)
Mrs. Clinton had expected to cruise triumphantly to the nomination, and ultimately to the Oval Office, by posing as the responsible grownup in the room – in contrast to the radical, wild-haired senator and the bombastic Republican billionaire whom she pronounced totally “unfit” for the presidency in both temperament and experience. She would be the sensible, mainstream candidate the country needed. But the senator’s large crowds and repeated primary victories have forced her to veer leftward and stake out positions that won’t make her very attractive to the “God, Bible and guns” crowd who constitute a sizeable bloc of the electorate. She is shaping up to be every bit as radical as President Obama, and hardly distinguishable from Bernie (The Commie) Sanders.
Call me a partisan doom-sayer, but I can’t see this strategy working with an electorate fatigued by a stalled economy, low wages, poor employment-prospects, high medical costs (mostly produced by Obamacare), and a negligent foreign policy that has made them feel less safe than when the silver-tongued Obama was elected. The growing scandal of Mrs. Clinton’s cavalier disregard, while Secretary of State, for security-rules designed to protect sensitive national data from outside exposure, plus the looming threat of a possible indictment by the federal DoJ for her use of an unprotected, private e-mail server, have put Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy in what Ronald Reagan called “deep kimschi.” National polls consistently show that two-thirds of the public distrust her.
Six months ago, Dems were popping champagne-corks and celebrating the total wreck of the Republican Party. They believed Mr. Trump had destroyed the GOP, that the pieces could never be put back together in this election year, and that sizeable numbers of Republican voters would actually come over to their side to avoid supporting (the hated) Trump. Sure, Hillary had a few problems, but the election was still in the bag for her.
In politics, though, a few months can be a lifetime. Today, Mrs. Clinton is (finally) in hot water over her careless handling of classified material at State. She might actually be indicted for security violations. She might not, but she has taken a severe hit for it. Voters have depressingly long memories about her past; Mr. Obama has still not endorsed her; and Senator Sanders is doggedly hanging on, hoping for a convention “miracle.”
Worst of all, the tiny Trump-cloud on the horizon – once no bigger than a man’s hand – has grown into a giant thunderhead that threatens to rain all over Democrats’ coronation-parade to the White House. Rampant on the political field, The Donald is unifying his party. He is leading Mrs. Clinton in some national polls. To say that there is consternation – yea, panic – in the Democrat Party would be the understatement of the year.
As the magic moment of clinching the GOP nomination came into view, Mr. Trump began to soften his rhetoric and make fence-mending overtures to suspicious GOP establishment types and nervous conservatives. The two-toned-shoe-and-blazer crowd was worried that this brash outsider would reshape their party and take away their meal tickets. Many had been plotting to find a way to deny Mr. Trump the brass ring, and some formed a “never Trump” coalition. A faction vowed to sit out the election if this “upstart” headed the ticket, and a (thankfully) much smaller gang said they would actually vote for Mrs. Clinton rather than the “totally unsuitable” Mr. Trump. The Donald had his work of unifying the party cut out for him.
Despite what snooty pols and wet-behind-the-ears reporters say about him, Mr. Trump is not a stupid man. (How could he be at his level of success?) From the beginning he understood that the American people longed for real leadership from someone who not only wanted to set the nation on the right track, but actually looked like he might do it. Mr. Trump’s personal style fit the temper of the times perfectly. He saw that a really brash, bombastic approach would be essential for attracting national attention to his message, so he set out to upset the entire political apple-cart. Fortunately, he possessed that style in abundance. (Over-abundance, some would say.) This approach succeeded – probably beyond even Mr. Trump’s expectations, and certainly far beyond the wildest dreams (or nightmares) of political graybeards in both parties.
Mr. Trump is now busy meeting leaders of the various wings of the Republican Party, taking care to answer their questions and hear their concerns. He has a two-pronged task: (1) showing these leaders that he has a coherent policy in mind; and (2) assuring them that while he does intend to overturn the current administration’s feckless and damaging policies – both foreign and domestic – he doesn’t plan to wreck the Grand Old Party. He wants GOP pros’ help to win the presidency and then to govern the country. As he has said repeatedly from the campaign stump, he wants to “make America great again”, and he wants to put the GOP back in the driver’s seat.
If Mr. Trump can pull the GOP together, he can achieve a historic win in November. He’s not a perfect candidate (who is?), but every sane Republican knows that electing Mrs. Clinton would be disastrous for both the party and the country. I believe they will get behind Mr. Trump and pray that he can prevent it. I’ll do the same.
These are interesting times, and they promise to become even more so. Stay tuned.