The Politico Nails It:
“Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably,” the great Homer Simpson once observed. “The lesson is: never try.”
That’s probably how the so-called “smart set” within the Republican Party feels these days. Ever since Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat—a loss that caught everyone off guard except for people who followed public opinion polls or read a newspaper—we Republicans were promised a tough, new approach to the presidential primary process.
No longer would the “non-serious candidates”—a term the bigwigs applied to people like Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain—be permitted to dominate the news cycles. This time the GOP would be a well-oiled machine, with a handful of candidates who quickly and quietly made way for the coronation of King Bush the Third.
And yet here we are.
The first GOP debate, televised on August 6 on Fox News, is already a total backfire for the establishment. Based on the latest polls, it will likely include every single one of the candidates the Republican elite despises: Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz—and banish to the losers’ consolation round exactly the types of candidates the establishment presumably wants to showcase: a female business leader, an Indian-American son of immigrants and the consensus-building governor of the crucial electoral state of Ohio.
The controlled, somber and oh-so-civilized process that the GOP promised its donors is now the biggest free-for-all in American political history. The blame for this, of course, is all being thrown in one direction.
Channeling their best William Shatner, GOP leaders everywhere are clenching their fists, looking skyward, and bellowing, “Trummmmmmp!”
But, come on, the very idea that party leaders could “manage” the primary process, and bully people like Trump out, was hubris in the first place. Turns out, voters tend not to like it when their “betters” dictate who should and should not be deemed a serious contender for the highest office in the land.
That Trump is mocking and bewildering the reviled GOP hierarchy—who lead a party with plummeting approval ratings among Republicans—fills the GOP electorate with a not-so-secret glee.
And is it really The Donald’s fault that he’s so interesting? Anybody bother to take a look at his main competition in the polls right now?
One candidate, Jeb Bush, comes across as what might have happened to George W. had he decided to become a physics teacher. Another is Scott Walker, whose most interesting revelation in his recent “unfiltered” ABC News interview was that he still wears “jorts.” (Yikes.)
Then there is the newest entry into the GOP race, Ohio’s John Kasich, who articulated exactly the kind of vision that the DC establishment generally supports. Unfortunately, Kasich happened to enter the race the same day that Mr. Trump, deep into one of his now-hourly feuds, decided to broadcast Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number on live TV. Which undoubtedly led to the most calls the Graham presidential campaign has received since it started.
But there is a bigger issue at work. Donald Trump is, well, choose your metaphor: a bull in a China shop, a tempest in a teapot, Leslie Nielsen setting an apartment on fire, Kramer trying to host the Merv Griffin show in his apartment, Cersei handing over Kings Landing to a bunch of religious wackos wearing smelly bathrobes and branding weird symbols on their heads. Trump is offensive, impulsive, unmanageable, unpredictable and—he is, by the way, exactly the candidate the DC establishment deserves.
To many voters, rightly or wrongly, Trump is the antidote to years of Washington’s cynical, manufactured outrages, the petty punishments of those who deviated from the party line, its broken promises, meaningless “show votes,” careful, poll-tested politician speak and a multitude of backroom deals that have solved exactly zero of our nation’s problems. How deliciously humiliating it must be for the political pros of DC. The guy who somberly handed out goofy busywork assignments to people like Stephen Baldwin and the star of Sharknado on “Celebrity Apprentice” has just wandered in, delivered a few speeches off the top of his head and totally taken over the presidential race without breaking a sweat.
Unlike the DC crowd, Trump knows something about building “brands”—and for now at least he has one that sells. The business guy who can’t be bought. The iconoclast who won’t be controlled. The unrepentant loudmouth who will tell the Boehners and Pelosis and Putins and Kim Jong Uns of the world to stuff it. The quip machine—or insult generator if you prefer—who stands in sharp contrast to the dry, safe, meaningless drivel that passes for most political discourse today.
Intentionally or not, Trump also lets people in on the little DC secrets that those inside the Beltway wouldn’t dare share with regular America. He’s exposed, for example, the fact that office seekers like Rick Perry sucked up to him for millions before he started attacking him. Or that politicians like Lindsey Graham have turned to him for help to get on various TV programs. Or pointing out that the wife of a well-respected political pundit on Fox News works for rival Scott Walker.
Because he is defiantly not a part of the political class, he is impervious to conventional political weaponry. In fact, the attitude of the DC class toward his candidacy—temper tantrums and bouts of monumental arrogance—is only making him stronger.
Donald Trump has had rough words for many of the GOP and the whole fracas over whether or not John McCain is a war hero (spoiler alert: he is) was foolish and indefensible. But let’s not be hypocritical here. The GOP has been equally hostile to Trump from the outset—and that hostility has only grown as Trump has gained traction with Republican voters. He’s been called a clown, a fraud, a pretender, a joke—implicitly insulting his supporters, which currently happen to be a not insignificant segment of the GOP electorate. A segment that could abandon the Republicans for a third party if Trump is ticked off enough to fund an independent campaign.
The fault for the Trump phenomenon lies not only with the GOP, however. In a first for a news organization, the Huffington Post announced that it was unilaterally relegating a legitimate frontrunner for a major political party’s nomination to the entertainment pages. This was the perfect manifestation of the arrogance and elitism Americans despise. The Huffington Post did not perform this “public service” with other presidential candidates whose chances were even more farcical than Trump’s, like Al Sharpton, the professional attention hog. Nor did they exile to their funny pages former Senator Mike Gravel—whose campaign seemed to exist only to publicize its weird “performance art” campaign ads.
Similarly, the Des Moines Register recently demanded that Trump exit the race, even as he scored at or near the top of opinion polls in Iowa, and long before the voters had any say in the matter. Trump replied in a pointed manner that few politicians could muster: “The Des Moines Register has lost much circulation, advertising and power over the last number of years. They will do anything for a headline, and this poorly written ‘non-endorsement’ got them some desperately needed ink.” He made the Register’s action look pompous and silly.
The Daily Beast‘s effort this week to use Trump’s ex-wife, Ivana, against him—a la Marianne Gingrich in 2012—also backfired spectacularly. Rather than labeling her former husband a “rapist,” the first Mrs. Trump warmly endorsed him for the White House.
Thanks to this sort of clumsy incompetence, Trump has been handed every Republican candidate’s dream: the chance to run against both the GOP leadership and the mainstream media.
Should Trump fall, as most people expect, it will likely be at his own hand, not by the geniuses in Washington who don’t want some outsider messing up their playground.
They—the political press, the pundit class, the professional politicians—all but asked for a candidate like Donald Trump. And now they’ve got him. Enjoy the ride while it lasts. I certainly will.