I have two kids, ages 13 and 10. Bullying is a real thing to them. We talk about it at home. Teachers and principals talk about it at school. They know it's bad. They know no one should tolerate it. They know you're supposed to call it out when you see it in order to help defend the victim.
And now they know it helps you run for president.
Donald Trump is a glorified schoolyard bully. The wrongness of his success with it has been bothering me for quite a while. The first time it really hit home was back in October when he went after both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio at a campaign stop in Florida. He accused Bush of "meeting with mommy and daddy," to get strategy help on the campaign. "He's a guy who wants to run our country, and he can't even run his own campaign." Trump went on to mock Rubio for excessive sweating and water drinking, "And he needs a lot of water on top of everything else...Have you ever seen a guy sweat like Rubio?"
This week's Republican debate brought it to a whole new level. Jeb Bush tried to pick a fight with Trump, and it was a huge mistake. Bush told Trump he was never going to make it to the White House by throwing insults, to which Trump answered, "You're a tough guy, Jeb. I know...I'm at 42 and you're at 3...Pretty soon you're going to be off the end." As Vox.com noted, "Trump was replying to an accusation that relies on insults and bullying with...insults and bullying."
Trump's approach is so stereotypical, B-movie as to be laughable. Except it isn't funny. It wasn't back in August when he made that awful veiled reference to Megyn Kelly's menstruation, or last month, either, when Trump subtly mocked a reporter's disability by physically flailing his arms around in imitation of the man.
And while it should go without saying that such behavior is bad, bizarrely, it doesn't. Bullying has been stunningly successful for Trump. A recent survey of polls showed Trump overwhelmingly in the lead among Republican primary candidates, with numbers as high as 37%, nearly three times those of his biggest challenger at the time.
We have entire web sites dedicated to teaching kids not to bully. We have anti-bullying programs in schools. We throw our hands up in disgust at that parent - you know the one - at a kid's sporting event who taunts the other players, pushes his kid to be more aggressive, maybe gets in a fight over some call by the ref. So why is it working for Trump?
Because we like Dirty Harry. We want a leader who's tough on crime, and tough on terrorists. If we didn't before - which we did - the country is absolutely clamoring for it now, in the wake of events like the terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut, and most recently in San Bernardino. The guy who talks tough is the one who seems the toughest.
Here's the thing, though. Our president has to be multi-dimensional, diplomatic and savvy as well as truly strong. "Why ya hittin' yourself?" is no substitute for well thought-out public policy. Plus, there's a difference between a tough guy and a bully. People think Donald Trump sounds like Harry Callahan. Listen closely, though, and he comes off a whole lot more like Scott Farkus from A Christmas Story.
My daughter pointed out to me Trump's taunts of the disable reporter when they happened. I called him a bully and she said, "You know, Mom, he really is. That's exactly what he is."
She knows bullying when she sees it. And she knows he's winning.