Several of my Democratic friends have asked for an explanation of the Trump phenomenon, some even offering insights from their normal sources of political wisdom such as the New Yorker (The Republican Class War: In 2016, will conservatives finally face the realities of inequality?) and Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams (How to Spot a Wizard). Some of the questions represent real seeking of understanding; others are a search for avenues of attack. For those wanting to understand the mood of the Republican party rather than engage in a debate, I would offer a simple answer - the Trump phenomenon is the result of anger with the presidency of Barack Obama and with the inability of the Republican establishment to respond despite overwhelming victories in 2010 and 2014.
First, the anger:
- The underlying theme is condescension and dismissiveness - by much of the media as shown in the recent CNBC debate; by Barack Obama who has progressively come to rule by executive order rather than legislation; by Congressional leadership which has decreed that they will not use the power of the purse to stop him.
- Political correctness has crowded out common sense. Conservatives are tired of being called racists for opposing open immigration, morally inferior for wanting personal responsibility, and intellectually inferior for studying business or welding rather than philosophy. (Our country has, after all, provided the greatest freedom and opportunity of any country in the history of the world. We should be able to speak proudly for what works.)
- There are many policy areas to look to. At least three are easily understood and broadly accepted among Republicans of all stripes:
-- Obamacare. Born of Congressional corruption and presidential lies; a failure in implementation; rife with compulsion of individuals and people of faith.
-- International retreat. The refusal to acknowledge Islamic terrorism; the lack of a strategy for Syria or ISIS; the rise of Putin's Russia; Iran's path to nuclear weapons.
-- Immigration. The impact of 11 million illegal immigrants on the economics of the native born working class; the overlay of drugs and gangs; the basic undercutting of the rule of law.
- If that were not enough, there are plenty of other issues which will turn out segments of the Republican constituency: attacks on the police; federal funding for abortion (Planned Parenthood); the global warming hysteria; Wall Street corruption; the IRS scandal. This is a red meat election.
And the implications for the Republican field:
- Donald Trump catches all of this. Republicans want somebody to yell "ENOUGH!!!" Trump does - and he can draw an audience of 20 million. The conservative mood has little to do with policy or experience. It is "against" rather than "for".
- Jeb Bush doesn't. He is running on experience and prudent, sensible policies but that is not what this election is about - and it will not be even if Trump falters. Likewise John Kasich who is Bush without the name problem. For establishment moderates this is not the year.
- Trump's weakness is the risk that he would implode in a campaign against the eminently beatable Hillary. His shtick will get old; some outrageous comment could outrage. Republicans dislike the Obama administration largely on policy and style; with Hillary it is also personal. Most don't want to take that risk.
The evolving challenge for the remaining Republican candidates is not to have the best experience or the best tax plan (Paul Ryan will take care of that); it is to articulate their alignment with conservative anger and to explain how they will beat Hillary. There are options.
This week's bonus is a "Veterans Day-appropriate" ad sent by a reader in California's Central Valley.