Some writing about Trump on the internetPosted: March 10, 2016
Last summer, when Donald Trump announced his candidacy to a bunch of paid extras in a mall food court and subsequently rose to the top of the polls, I think I made a mistake many others made. I thought that this was just another one of those candidacies, not unlike that of Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, or Michele Bachmann in 2012. In other words, 2016 would just be a repeat of 2012. At the time, my chief worry was not that Trump would win his party’s nomination, but that Trump would make the other candidates (and their ideas) on the debate stage seem less crazy than they actually were.
Why was I wrong? I wasn’t paying attention to what he was saying, or who he was appealing to. And he was appealing to the struggling working and poor whites who blame globalization and immigration for much of the nation’s woes and who feel that neither party has represented their interests. Late last year, a report came out that said poorly educated middle-aged whites were the only demographic in America that had experienced life expectancy declines. And a recent interview of Theda Skocpol, political scientist at Harvard, demonstrated to me that what most Republican voters care about (immigration) is not what the large Republican donors and elder statesmen care about (deregulation and tax cuts for the rich). The latter has pandered to the former in primary after primary, but it seems these voters are finally realizing that the establishment doesn’t actually care. Hence, Donald Trump.
Fast forward to today, with roughly half the primaries completed. Trump remains at the top of the national polls, and he leads in delegates. Meanwhile, the media in recent weeks has remained focused on his celebrity, televising every victory speech or rally and subsequently condemning him. And so, I was completely wrong about Trump’s chances for success in the primaries, but I wasn’t wrong about the media focusing on words (and how they are delivered) rather than on more substantive issues, and in the process making others on the stage (and their ideas) look more palatable. On tax policy, Trump, Cruz (the “crazy” pick), Rubio (the “establishment” pick) and Kasich (the “moderate” pick) all propose large tax cuts that will primarily help the wealthy and create huge deficits that could only be paid by cutting the safety net drastically. On immigration, despite all the focus on Trump, all have adopted similarly harsh stances. On trade policy, Trump is the same as Romney in 2012, where he lambasted Obama for not going hard at China for currency manipulation. Trump also favors more protectionist policies, which is at odds with big business and the Republican establishment (and agrees with some of Bernie Sanders’s own rhetoric). By fighting a battle on language instead of a battle on ideas, the media essentially gives up on the latter.
I consider all of the major Republican candidates to be basically terrible and unacceptable: Ohio Governor John Kasich is considered the moderate in the race because he will not say mean things in debates. Rubio is considered the most electable because he’s young, speaks positively and can be manipulated by the big donors and establishment forces in the party. And then there’s Cruz: I have been of the view that Cruz would be the worst possibility of all because he’s an extremely skilled and smart politician, and worse, a real believer in his causes. He has demonstrated an ideological purity that would be more damaging than any kind of political incorrectness. He single-handedly shut down the government over an attempt to repeal Obamacare. . .while Obama was still in office and had veto power. The pointlessness of that crusade was not lost on his own colleagues.
Since the early 1980s, the Republican party, driven by rich donors with a specific agenda, has gone further and further right. The “sensible” Republicans, who used racism and immigration issues subtly (and not so subtly) for years to drive their victories, now wonder how the party could be so broken in this election.