Could Donald Trump Win the GOP Nomination?
In a bizarre display of unity, an amalgam of disparate publications is attacking Donald Trump with unnatural zeal. One National Review editorial calls Trump a “philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.” A Huffington Post blog characterizes the ongoing Trump candidacy as “Good for Democrats, But Bad for America.” A Salon article title blares, “Donald Trump’s white America is revolting: New numbers show just how noxious the GOP front-runner’s coalition is.” In a strident Washington Post opinion piece, George Will calls Trump an “avatar of unfettered government and executive authoritarianism” who “has mesmerized a large portion of Republicans.”
Some think a Trump Oval Office would resemble a 1970s Manhattan boardroom with all the trimmings, a place where the President would do anything to keep the big money with the rich while carelessly encouraging blue collar workers, so long as the deals go through and the high-rise apartments get built by deadline. Women would keep the coffee hot, wear even hotter dresses, and make copies.
Others see Trump as a grim embodiment of our era. In this scenario, the entire political system resembles a depressing reality TV series. Americans think their votes matter, but they really don’t because democracy no longer exists. It has become an illusory concept now used as a control mechanism by an ultra-powerful oligarchy that continues to consolidate its corporate, military, and political power. Politicians simply tell uninformed, uneducated automatons what they want to hear, and Trump is popular for now because he isn’t a garden-variety senator or governor. They see him as someone willing to take on the elite despite the fact that he’s a member of the elite, mainly because of his cult of personality.
An angrier faction despises Trump for more primeval reasons. They see him as a cultural embarrassment, a tasteless, boorish lout whose bellicose narcissism might trigger World War III. He bullies rather than debates, attacks rather than analyzes. Trump scares people with his petulant stubbornness, especially given that he’s a sore loser. He has lived with so much money and power for so long that some wonder if he’ll ever again listen to anyone when cooler heads need to prevail.
Ironically, the very system that now wishes to dispose of Trump was largely responsible for creating him. Media outlets manufacture news by framing prefabricated topics for niche markets and then playing to the sensational, as if to ask, “What do you want the truth to be today?” It should surprise no one that Trump is fixated on polls. He observes them carefully and tweaks his message as necessary, particularly if doing so inspires cultural turbulence. In a recent television interview, Jeb Bush said of Trump, “He’s hijacked my party.” In truth, Trump has merely exposed Washington politicians and their media accomplices for what they are by more effectively leveraging the game they invented, and they hate him for it.
All the same, those who don’t understand Trump’s appeal are overlooking some transparent economic and political realities. Trump stands a good chance of winning the 2016 Republican presidential nomination because he’s speaking to struggling working-class Americans in a language that other candidates aren’t. Bernie Sanders is still doing well in the Democratic Party primaries because many blue-collar Democrats who support him feel no love or loyalty for the corporate elite. On the other hand, working-class Republicans have been encouraged for decades to believe in the power of trickle-down economics, the idea being that wealthy, successful companies can hire more employees and pay them higher wages.
But working-class Republicans are finally beginning to realize that theory and application are often two different things, and they feel betrayed. They directly or implicitly intuit that the wealth gap is now bigger than ever, with 1% of the American public controlling 40% of the country’s wealth. Meanwhile, Trump rightly argues that an orgy of outsourcing has led to the steel and machine tool industries leaving America altogether while other industries have downsized dramatically within our borders, to include the auto and digital industries.
As a result, the middle class has been evaporating while blue-collar workers struggle to find and hold jobs that offer fewer opportunities and pay lower wages. Add to this a $19 trillion national debt that the Millennials will never be able to erase no matter who is running the country, and one can understand the scathing contempt struggling working-class Republicans feel for every political insider who has perpetuated this erosion of the American Dream. Why respect an elected official who abuses your loyalty?
As someone who wasn’t groomed in the Washington political machine, Trump can safely characterize his opponents as corrupt insiders who continue to be directly responsible for this humiliating national disaster, and he promises to bring back business to America through higher tariffs and strong-arm international policies, especially toward China. His status as a celebrity outlier also allows him to take positions not popular within the Republican Party right now but popular with many thinking Republicans nonetheless. For instance, he regularly savages George W. Bush and, by default, George’s brother Jeb, for justifying a misbegotten, economy crushing war in Iraq based on the false pretense of weapons of mass destruction. In keeping with the assertion that a previous president lied us into war, Trump supports the idea of maintaining a strong military while avoiding military adventurism. He points out, too, that Planned Parenthood serves the community in a number of valuable ways although he doesn’t support the organization’s abortion procedures.
Despite Trump’s glaring limitations, his stances on these and other issues appear more sensible to many disillusioned Republicans than the ones held by his current competitors. Put simply, his political platform speaks to more than just building a wall along the Mexican border. His campaign is to the point where even Blue Dog Democrats and Evangelicals are beginning to support him. This doesn’t make him honest, likable, or capable of governing the country. It does, however, shed light on how increasingly bleak America’s future seems to a growing number of voters who, despite a potentially dangerous gamble, might be unwilling to countenance some worse alternative for the next four years.