Why the Press Can't Figure Out Trump

FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks during a campaign
FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks during a campaign pep rally in Mobile, Ala. Alabama is no longer a flyover state for presidential hopefuls. Six GOP presidential candidates are visiting the state over a 10-day period. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Read, or better yet, talk to a political reporter or Republican operative about the Donald and you find a pattern. Left, Middle and most of the Right there is contempt, head-shaking and bad, predictable jokes. He's spoken of as stupid, unqualified, bombastic, out-of-touch and inexplicable. There's no deep understanding of the reasons for his surge among Republican primary voters. We have a chattering class and a political class that doesn't understand what's going on.

Let's take the conventional adjectives and examine them one at a time.

STUPID -- No. He's made his way in the worlds of business and entertainment with enough success so that it's not luck. He is certainly unfamiliar with lots of what government and presidents have to understand and decide (Imagine the Oval Office conversation around developing federal policy on the Western drought or end-of-life care. Yikes). But the family genes (sister a Federal appellate judge, father a start-from-scratch developer) and a careful review of what he says shows that he's not stupid.

UNQUALIFIED -- Depends. The same thing was said about a movie actor, a Missouri Senator/Vice-President, and a community organizer, all of whom have done reasonably well. Deep experience in the government gave us George Bush. Deep policy thinking gave us Bill Clinton. Engineering school gave us Jimmy Carter. Part of a president's job is to bond with the country, and to give voice to the electorate at least that part of it that votes for him or her. There he's qualified.

BOMBASTIC -- Oh yeah. So was Teddy Roosevelt and he's up on Mt. Rushmore. It does give one pause about what the conversations with Putin or Queen Elizabeth will be like, but there's no intrinsic reason to prefer elegant mumbling to a big-mouth.

OUT-OF-TOUCH -- With who? With reporters, pundits and editorial boards? Absolutely. With a third of the Republican primary electorate? Boy is he in touch. There is a problem here for Trump and it may be insoluble. Americans expect their president to have a decent and humane empathy for all of God's children. Trump's idiosyncratic outbursts are most remarkable for their lack of kindness and concern for many, many people. At some point, this will trouble a lot of voters, other than the tribe of angry right-wingers who have congealed around the Donald. He will need a broader base than what he now has. An empathetic Trump may bring him more support, but it could cost him dearly as well.

INEXPLICABLE -- Not really, if you're willing to think about it. Trump has hit a nerve, mainly as a consequence of the transformation of the Republican Party. A solid fourth of Rep voters hate the government, hate incumbents and hate the political system. They bring social attitudes about gender, race, sexual orientation, poverty, guns and more that are deeply felt in the white South and seem old fashioned elsewhere. It's not the Party of Lincoln, Teddy R. or even Nixon and Reagan. It's the home for millions of George Wallace, "legitimate-rape", Sage Brush Rebellion, Charlton Heston, Fox News Americans. And they get to vote like everyone else.

The Republican establishment has lost control. Wall Street, the Koch Brothers, the Chamber of Commerce are as aghast and perplexed as liberal journalists. They're hoping that Dorothy throws a pail of water on the Donald and he melts. For now the GOP is in an insoluble bind. For as long as his poll numbers remain strong, Trump will define the issues, the tone, and the events that will lead to the nomination. That will be entertaining, but it will define the Republican Party in ways the general electorate will reject.

Free advice: Be Like John. Take Trump seriously. Try to understand him. Ignore his shtick. Don't get dragged to the right. Conduct oneself with dignity and calmness. Be patient and become the "anti-Trump"inheriting a lot of voters who don't want the Donald to define their party or the election. Only John Kasich seems to have figured this out.