He has become a real factor and may garner the Republican nomination for president. But while I acknowledge my error, I will also point out the logic that dictated that error.
There was the long history of him supporting Democratic politicians. There was the fact that he was from the New York metropolitan area which produced more high profile liberals than high profile conservatives. There was the fact that he hadn’t really done anything political as a public figure.
On the other hand the Republican Party seemed to have come to the conclusion that its ideas were the best ideas and had been doubling down on those ideas in recent years. Case in point: when George W. Bush was president the conservative ideas around faith based sex education weren’t just advocated by Republicans, policies were actually put into place. By contrast Democrats were the ones who were nominating someone (Obama) who had very little experience on the big stage. In fact this was at the center of Republican criticism of him during the 2008 campaign – Obama was “just a community organizer.”
Furthermore there has been a consistent buzz just below the surface throughout the campaign by those already connected to Republican movers-and-shakers that established Republicans did not want Trump to get the nomination. This buzz finally erupted in the past two weeks as Mitt Romney and John McCain have come out against Trump. It is very telling that both of the past two presidential nominees (so presumably they had/have a lot of Republican support and influence) did not definitively speak in favor of a particular candidate, they simply positioned themselves as anti-Trump; it is as if anyone else would be an upgrade from Trump.
So how has Trump been able to overcome such liabilities as no experience and no support among influential Republican politicians? There are really two factors: potential and brand management.
As I have already mentioned the idea that the Republicans would support someone on potential seems antithetical. Republicans have, for decades, made certain political positions mandatory. So much so that for a person to gain a nationwide conservative following while still having the potential to support something like stem-cell research is amazing. Furthermore it was the thing that was wrong with Obama as a candidate. For Republicans to shift so much to be able to support an unknown quantity like Trump could be taken as a signal that they are merely following the lead of the Democrats – scary thought.
Trump’s ability to advance his reputation is/was not surprising. He has been able to continually shake off his financial and business failures while highlighting his successes. Until it came up in the news recently most people would not have been able to name Trump University as a negative for Trump but many people could have said something about Trump’s Casinos in Atlantic City. For all of his inexperience and not knowing how to run a municipality, Trump’s greatest asset is his ability to keep his reputation positive. There is a reason Trump boasted that he could kill someone and not drop in the polls – he knows how to craft a public image that can withstand lots of negative noise. Trump’s endurance in this campaign season is less a product of sound policy and conservative positions and more a product of his hype machine.
Those two factors are specific to Trump. But the biggest cause for his success up to this point is the inaction of the other candidates. The tragedy of the commons is the concept that no individual in a group wants to take action that will benefit the group but harm them individually. In the case of the Republican campaign season, all of the established politicians (representatives, senators, and governors) believed that Trump would eventually falter or peter out and when he did they would benefit. But none of them wanted to be the impetus for him faltering because they did not want to be seen as bullying him. But because no one pushed, here we are with Trump the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. All it would have taken was Rubio becoming more combatative earlier or someone with more clout than Lindsay Graham taking on Trump with respect to policy. Instead they all chose to wait him out, and to this point only three challengers remain from a field that once counted over a dozen.
There have been only two instances of a major political party going defunct in American history. The Federalist Party buried itself by not being patriotic enough during wartime; The Whig Party wasn’t forceful enough and eventually helped form the basis of the Republican Party. It seems as if today’s Republican Party is at a crossroads that could ultimately determine if the party survives. Many of the ideas that the party has promoted are non-starters with each new generation of young people – there is no going back on homosexual citizenship privileges. And if the party does nominate Trump and essentially attempt to copy a Democratic strategy to win the presidency that would be another nail in the coffin of what makes Republicans different from Democrats. If Republicans cannot distinguish themselves why should the party exist?
I have anticipated this problem for the Republican Party for years. Conservatives really need to reinvent themselves to appeal to a new wave of voters. Unfortunately that is another thing that Trump is not good at.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected]