When Donald Trump entered the Republican race to be the party’s presidential nominee, I did not believe he was a serious candidate. He was the comic relief out to build his brand.
While he would strongly deny it, Donald Trump did not enter the race to be the nominee. When he announced his candidacy, he lacked a long game. He lacked depth on issues and lacked concern about getting up to speed on issues, because he was not going to be in the campaign long enough to need them. He was slow to hire a staff to help him run a national ground game, a team that would help Trump in the caucus states to track potential delegates, then secure and solidify those delegates. His Iowa ground game was anemic. Why? Was it Trump’s brilliance that saw that none of that was necessary? While Monday quarterbacking his answer was his plan from the outset, the is highly doubtable. He didn’t have a ground game because he did not think he would win it all.
A master at amassing wealth through image branding, Trump’s goal was to broaden and deep his image, his “brand”. Hence, from the outset, what he did was designed for one purpose, to gain as much media attention possible in the most media intensively covered story that comes around every four years and which he could ride for six to nine months. His outlandish statements and over-simplified controversial solutions did just that, and quickly he was being in more stories than any other candidate.
In the wake a lot of conservative Republican firebrands were left in shock. In Cruz they had a “purist”, a man who was a darling of the Tea Party and who could as president serve as a quasi-evangelist-in-chief in the eyes of the evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians. They had a man who treated compromise as four letter word. As it turns out their ideal champion could not make it out of their own party let alone go on to win a national election.
So what happened? While many books will be penned and expounded upon for years to come, as an outside observer, and listening to comments by people who voted for Trump, I venture to put forth the following list of what happened.
1. Rubio, Bush, Cruz, Christy, etc. ran political campaigns. In contrast, Trump ran a brand marketing campaign. Such a campaign is designed to catch media attention, suck up as much attention as possible, create buzz by tapping into the fears of his intended audience, articulate those fears in a stark manner and then give a solution. Not only did Trump define himself he also defined his opponents who were not prepared to fight a branding campaign. As Trump was running a branding campaign, what he said to grab attention and move people may or may not be views he holds.
2. For about two decades talk radio and a handful of widely listened to right-wing commentators have increasingly generated anger in their followers. They have spoken of compromise, the basis upon which this nation was founded and the foundation of sound governance, as evil. These commentators sowed the seeds created the ground for dysfunctional government. As such, these stirrers of anger tilled the ground for Trump’s seeds to take hold and bloom. Trump became the standard bearer for their rage. His statements channel their rage and his simplified contentless promise to do something made them feel good.
3. Coupled with anger is a dysfunctional delegitimized Congress that is accomplishing little helped create an environment for Trump’s success. At the state and national levels our politicians have through their demonizing of those in the opposite party, and an unwillingness to compromise and work together brought into existence dysfunctional government. When proposals by one party are being rejected and opposed by the other, even those proposals that were once one’s espoused by the rejecting party, they were delegitimizing the governing process.
When reasonable proposals are put forth it is not uncommon for the proposal to be framed to contain poison pills knowingly that they are forcing the party opposite to reject the idea. Extreme minorities in both parties through their rigidity have created a deep distrust of politicians across the nation. It is a shame that a nation that prides itself on the process by which it was founded has turned its back upon that founding process and delegitimized government officials, Congress, the Supreme Court and the governing process. Instead of working to make government more responsive to contemporary needs of the citizenry they have been through their bickering destroying government.
In such an environment, why would the general populist line-up behind Bush, Rubio and Cruz when they have Trump as an option serving as the piper with his enchanting song? As government is delegitimized in the eyes of the average Republican primary voter, when looking at content-challenged Trump they follow him thinking, “Anything is better than one of these idiots. How could Trump do worse.”
4. Throughout history economic trauma and insecurity gives emergence to voices of protectionism, nativism, xenophobia and outright bigotry. And sometimes major sea changes in a nation’s political life. Trump is tapping into and playing off those fears. He gives voice to those fears and unwashed reactions.
Such voices tend to point to particular groups for the cause of the nation’s woes, and warn that these people will destroy the nation unless they are strongly addressed. They create the ground in which a person of a different ethnicity is viewed by their neighbor with high suspicion. Such voices imply that if the nation stands against “those people” that the woe’s experienced by the citizenry will be reversed. Trump is channeling and giving legitimacy to such discontent with his “believe me, I will make it so much better” statements.
5. In the first months, neither the party nor the other candidates directly challenged Trump’s attention catching statements. They did not repudiate them firmly and state how they are clearly unrealistic and/or contrary to the values upon which the nation was founded.
Instead they remained silent or gave an empty and soft objection. It seems they didn’t do so for three reasons. For some they could not challenge him because either they lacked a position and wouldn’t venture forth onto foreign ground. For others, such as Ted Cruz, they wanted to play nice with the hope to ingratiate themselves to his supporters so as to attract his supporters when he dropped out of the race. For a few it may well be possible that they remained silent because they had a similar but softer position that Trump stated more starkly. Hence for this third group, Trump turned their right flank them and routed them into a retreat.
6. A significant portion of the Republican primary voters are older than 55 and white, a demographic that is highly concerned that the government not destroy or tamper with their retirement benefits. Though many of the people drawn to Trump may state that they want small government and have concerns about religious liberty, for these older voters, those issues are secondary to their concern about hawks drawing the nation in additional foreign wars, and protecting their Medicare and Social Security. A hawkish Cruz was likely to tamper with their retirement benefits, and send their grandchildren off to die on foreign soil.
7. Trump captured as many evangelical voters as Ted Cruz which indicates that that group is not a monolith. While evangelical voters, and who are primarily 40+ and white, have concerns about religious liberty and various other morality issues, this group are more concerned about a host of other issues. One of those concerns is the coloring of the nation.
Cruz’s pushing his evangelical credentials worked against him with some evangelicals. Recently two evangelicals noted to me that the sincerity of Cruz’s faith was put into doubt in their minds when word came out that he had not been tithing to his church. As tithing is viewed as a mark of spirituality, Cruz not even coming close to doing so for many years raised questions. For these two people, the tithing issue opened them up to voting for Trump.
8. Cruz tried to portray himself as an outsider and a Tea Party politician, yet as the campaign heated up the outsider image became hollow. Compared to Trump, Cruz was the insider who used insider tactics and techniques like other insider candidates. His effort to get “Trump delegates” to switch to him at a contested convention reinforced the impression that Cruz was a typical politician.
His ethics and truthfulness came into question. When compared to Trump’s populist unwashed statements, Cruz’s obfuscating statements further demonstrated that he was a typical politician. Cruz’s Trusted signs in the eyes of many resonated as Trust Ted?? His effort to stack state delegates Naming his VP choice was viewed as a sign of desperation, the shooting off the fireworks as the ship flounders. Trump came across as the true outsider, not carrying what people thought and saying what he was thinking.
9. Populism triumphs over ideological purity, which differs from the assumption Cruz and his funders hold about the common Republican voter. Cruz and the ideological driven Republican purists advocate that if the party rallied around an ideological stalwart that Republicans would win the White House as well as increase their majority in the Senate and House. It is on this basis that the Freedom Caucus have been conducting themselves as if they represented the majority of the party and the general population (Cruz likely will hold that this is true for he argued recently that the majority of the party supports him. In doing so he is implying that a good portion of those who considered themselves Republicans and voted in the primaries are Rinos and therefore not truly Republicans.)
Ideological purity does not to give you a victory and if ideological purity does not give you victory within the party, then it is correct to question what would be the results in a general election.
10. Cruz's team were in error in thinking that as other candidates dropped out that they would get most of the supporters for those candidates. Instead, Trump gaining the lion share of those Republicans showed how limited Cruz's support was in the party, how flawed he was, and that the party would rather go with the comic relief who lacked policy that vote for Cruz.
11. Rubio gained no traction. He came off as a man who planned four years ago to run for President but who ran four to eight years too soon. Rubio was too unrefined and poorly articulated his positions. Also Rubio lacked a fire and passion that could have helped off-set his immaturity. Where was his heart?
12. Jeb Bush was listless, and lacked passion. He gave people no vision and cause to vote for him. He was not prepared to give people a reason to vote for a third Bush to be president.
13. Kasich lacked a vision around which people who were lukewarm to cold on Trump could rally. He seemed to have no burning fire to move people and stir them to support his run. His greatest argument was that he was a second term governor of Ohio. A major shortcoming was that he was a second term governor of Ohio, a state that economically under her leadership has at best been average.
14. Bridgegate undermined Christy's run.
Will Trump win the national election? The chances are high that he will but will only be a one term president.