Billionaire businessman Donald Trump has sucked the oxygen out of the Republican Party by dominating media coverage since he announced his presidential candidacy last month. As a result of his brash and often ridiculous statements he has soared in the polls to the top of a crowded field of candidates. Meanwhile, Trump's theatrics have exposed the weaknesses in the Republican Party.
Trump strongly appeals to a core group of Republican voters who are anti-immigrant and anti-Washington. His outrageous comments last month about Mexicans resonated with this group.
When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Never mind that this statement is not true, it is what some Republicans strongly believe. In fact, the Republican Party has long struggled with the immigration issue. Following their loss in the 2012 Presidential Election, the party released an autopsy report with its analysis of what went wrong. It noted that candidate Mitt Romney received only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote and it recommended increasing the party's appeal to Latinos. GOP party chairman Reince Priebus said at the time, "The question is: instead of getting 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, can I get 35?"
Yet, knowing the number of Hispanics in the American electorate is increasing, most of the announced Republican candidates failed to aggressively challenge Trump's appalling comments about Mexicans. Now the party is again on the defensive about immigration reform. The 2013 Republican autopsy report concluded that the party "must embrace and champion immigration reform." It warned, "If we do not, our party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only."
When it comes to other important issues facing America, Trump speaks as a man who is never in doubt, although he is frequently wrong. For instance, he has claimed he has a plan to defeat the terrorist group ISIS, which now controls oil fields in Iraq. "I would bomb the hell out of those oil fields," he told CNN earlier this month, "I wouldn't send many troops because you wouldn't need them by the time I got finished." Many military experts agree destroying the oil fields would do little to slow ISIS, but it would damage Iraq's future source of revenue. However, Trump knows that this kind of muscular, shoot from the hip approach to foreign policy appeals to a segment of the Republican base.
Trump claims he will put unemployed Americans back to work, explaining, "They can't get jobs, because there are no jobs, because China has our jobs and Mexico has our jobs." He claims that he will be a tough negotiator with China, and he blames the fact that Trump branded shirts and ties are manufactured in China on the Chinese! "Quite frankly, I was never satisfied with manufacturing my product in China, but because of what they've done in terms of devaluing their currency, it is very hard for other companies to compete and make such apparel in the United States." If he was never satisfied with making apparel in China, why did he do it?
Trump has joined the chorus of Republicans who attack Democrat frontrunner Hillary Clinton. In an interview this week with NBC News, he said, "Hillary Clinton was the worst secretary of state in the history of the United States." He continued, "There's never been a secretary of state so bad as Hillary. The world blew up around us, we lost everything, including all relationships. There wasn't one good thing that came out of that administration or her being secretary of state." He concluded, "I think she would be a terrible president."
While most Republicans agree with Trump, they may be surprised to hear that he praised her in a 2012 interview with Fox News. "Hillary Clinton I think is a terrific woman...I think she really works hard and I think she does a good job." In fact, Hillary and Bill Clinton had a front row seat at Trump's 2005 wedding to supermodel Melania Knauss.
Trump is attracting support among many Republicans because he has a well-known name and he is saying things many party members feel. He will no doubt be formidable in the upcoming debates. But his ad hominem attacks, his insults, his bombast and attacking tirades are only hurting a Republican Party that is deeply divided and struggling to find its way to the White House.