Understanding The Trump Phenomenon

I would prefer to run against any Republican in the country other than Trump.

Over the last year when my politically sophisticated liberal or conservative friends would confidently tell me that Donald Trump would never get the GOP nomination, my answer was always the same: “go to Costco and buy something, anything. Then go to the checkout counter and ask the cashier what she thinks of Donald Trump. There is your answer.” 

I was right then and I think I’m right now when I see a clear path to the Oval Office that could deliver Trump the electoral college and make him President, with or without a majority of the popular vote. 

Were I running Hillary Clinton’s campaign, I would prefer to run against any Republican in the country other than Trump who is easily every opposing campaign manager’s worst nightmare. Unpredictable and unbound by convention, it doesn’t take much imagination to see that Trump is very likely to arrange for Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones Kathleen Willey et al to sit in the front row at his first debate with Mrs. Clinton, then demand that she apologize for her role in her husband’s misbehavior with them. And what exactly will Mrs. Clinton say at such a moment?

In any event, the most likely path for Trump to the White House is one that barely gets him over the 270 mark in the electoral college, making the popular vote irrelevant. If Trump holds his second home state of Florida, then wins Ohio and Pennsylvania with neighbor Mike Pence’s help, that could still allow him to lose states like Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Virginia and Wisconsin all of which could prove difficult for Trump to win. In such a scenario, Trump would manage to eek out a 271-267 victory with or without the popular vote.
The support for Trump is a product of both the failings of the Republican political establishment and the rest of us. The GOP establishment is sowing the seeds it planted for the last 35 years when it failed to take seriously the promises it made to its voters from whom they extracted money and votes but seldom delivered on their promises. It once promised anti-abortion groups, for instance, that it would outlaw abortion and then delivered three Supreme Court Justices, O’Connor, Kennedy and Souter, who instead enshrined it. On immigration a promise of a one-time amnesty for 3 million illegals in exchange for closed borders turned out to be a sham and the voters never forgot, while on trade, a promise that NAFTA and various other trade deals would somehow benefit the American worker fizzled.

But we are also to blame, for if you carefully listen to Trump’s rhetoric it’s clear that what is striking a chord with the average American is his utter rejection of the politically correct language that has developed over the last 35 years during which we all stopped talking plainly to one another, instead living in holy terror of being labeled a something-ist, depending on the topic at hand.

Trump will have none of it, and not only speaks his mind and says what many are thinking (Low-energy Jeb, Little Marco, Crooked Hillary et al) but refuses to back down when pressured to recant.

To simplistically conclude as many have, that Trump’s appeal is simply to racists, xenophobes and hatemongers is to miss what is actually happening, for he is giving voice to political and cultural concerns that millions of Americans have and pushing back against the artificial boundaries of what is acceptable to discuss. And more than a few Americans are loving it.

All of this leaves one group in particular facing a crucial test: conservative Christians who first put Ronald Reagan into office in 1980 by switching their allegiance from Jimmy Carter and the Democrats to Reagan and the GOP will be faced with a stark choice, and despite the fact that at least some of their high-profile leaders are in the #NeverTrump camp, all eyes are on them to see if they will set aside their moral qualms about Trump, in much the same way that I used to choose Howard Stern over Jay Leno when I wanted to watch an honest interview. Although I had almost nothing in common with Stern and his values, I knew that his interviews would be honest and that he would elicit what I wanted to know about his guests, and not what his guests wanted me to know about them.

The rise of Donald Trump may indeed by puzzling, but the reasons for it are there to be understood. And when and if a Trump presidency occurs, it is important for both us and him to know the reasons why it happened as a man who is by contemporary political standards perhaps the least conventionally prepared nominee in history, becomes the leader of the free world.

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