I have to wonder (albeit in jest): Is Donald Trump a double agent, hired by the Hillary camp to wreak havoc inside the opposition party?
I’m loath to write even a syllable about his loathsome circus act, but since he currently ranks second in the GOP field – according to the latest surveys of Republicans nationally, and of Republican voters in the gateway states of Iowa and New Hampshire – I suppose that attention must be paid. He’ll probably fade when the race gets serious, as happened last time around when everyone got tired of circus act Herman Cain, but right now he’s the proverbial bull in the china shop, untethered and unhinged.
As Republican chairman Reince Priebus admitted the other day, The Donald’s bellicose antics are “not helpful.” As Trump operative Chuck Laudner, a former Santorum supporter, rightly boasted to the press this week, “They (Republicans) have lost control when Trump is in the room. They’re screwed.”
Here we have a party that’s desperate to expand beyond its core base of angry white people, if only because that’s the only way it can hope to win the presidency in the foreseeable future. And yet, here we have a candidate/performance artist who is supremely gifted at (a) sucking up all the oxygen in the room, and (b) disgorging the kind of racist stereotypes that play well with the GOP’s angry white people. Hence his strong standing in the GOP polls.
No wonder the Republicans seem stumped and Trumped.
When he insists, loudly and repeatedly, that the immigrants crossing our southern border are “killers” and drug pushers and “rapists,” he’s bonding with the GOP primary voters who share his toxic ‘tude. The other Republican candidates have been reluctant to confront him – none have demanded that he apologize for his racism – because that would tick off the toxic ‘tude voters. After all, the first GOP commandment is: Thou shalt not alienate The Base.
A few candidates have criticized Trump – but only when they’ve been prompted to respond. For instance, Lindsey Graham said this week, “When you label a group of people as rapists and drug dealers, (that) says more about you than it says about them.” Chris Christie called Trump’s remarks “inappropriate.” Jeb Bush said of Trump, “I don’t agree with him.” Rick Perry said he didn’t believe that Trump’s remarks “reflect the Republican party.”
But when George Pataki urged all the candidates to denounce Trump in a shared statement, none of them responded. In fact, Ted Cruz took the opposite tack (natch); he said that Trump’s remarks about criminal immigrants have been “terrific,” and that the guy need not apologize because he “speaks the truth.”
(Actually, Trump speaks the opposite of truth. Immigrants are imprisoned at a lower rate than native-born Americans, and Trump has no proof for his blanket claim that the immigrants are “rapists.” This week, he cited a 2014 news story about rape, but he got the details all wrong. The story describes the woes of migrant women who are often raped on their way into America; the story says nothing whatsoever about male rapists coming en masse to America.)
Anyway, here’s the GOP’s big problem – as described by Republican activist Ben Domenech, who tells CNN: “Trump’s comments are hurtful for the cause of Republicans who want to reach out, not just to Latinos, but across many different ethnic barriers. The problem with (Trump’s) comments is made worse by the fact that people will continue to confuse Trump with a Republican, which he is not, as opposed to thinking of him as an entertainer, which he is.”
Yeah, but this entertainer is a declared Republican candidate who, according to the metrics established by Fox News, is well poised to win a podium at the first debate on Aug. 6.
Trump is an outsized caricature of the angry white nativists who dominate the Republican base – he’s a veritable funhouse mirror – and while his rivals might well be tempted to indulge his racism (and pander to The Base) with silence or tepid demurrals, there is a huge potential downside. If they let him to run rampant, if they shrink from confronting him, they risk cementing the party’s vaunted reputation for intolerance. And by doing that, they risk kissing off the voters who are crucial to winning a 21st-century election.
During the last election season, Mitt Romney vowed that if he became president, he’d lower the jobless rate to six per cent or less by January 2017. His words: “I can tell you that over a period of four years, by virtue of the policies that we’d put in place, we’d get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent, and perhaps a little lower.”
The new jobless rate, released yesterday, is 5.3 percent.
Naturally, President Obama’s critics say that’s unimportant, but, rest assured that if Mitt was in the White House, they’d be trumpeting 5.3 from the rooftops.
And Mitt would say something like this: “By virtue of the policies I’ve put in place, I’ve fulfilled my promise – and more. America is back. We’re moving forward. Happy Fourth of July!”
Indeed. Happy Fourth of July.