Sunday, Apr 14, 2024

Opponents Still Underestimating Trump

The sudden collapse of the last two candidates standing in the way of Donald Trump’s historic capture of the GOP Republican nomination has led to disarray within the party’s established leadership. Many are unwilling to accept the fact that the rank and file of the GOP has chosen Trump’s populist agenda rather than the conservative political talking points. After Republican voters had voted the party’s candidates into office for the express purpose of carrying out those promises, which ranged from overturning Obamacare to securing the country’s border’s against a tidal wave of illegal immigration, the GOP establishment violated their trust. They continued to conduct business as usual with the big government liberals in Washington.

Angry GOP voters, frustrated by the failure of their elected leaders to fulfill their campaign promises once they reached Washington, revolted against them by giving their support to Trump in overwhelming numbers in the most recent GOP primaries. Those victories undermined the plan of the GOP establishment to deny Trump the nomination he had rightfully won from the voters at what they hoped would be the first contested GOP convention in 40 years.

The collapse of the anti-Trump movement was so swift in the wake of Trump’s landslide victory in the Indiana primary that it caught both him and party leaders by surprise. It had been widely assumed that Trump’s remaining opponents, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich, would continue to campaign against him until he won the nomination with an absolute majority of 1,237 convention delegates on June 7, when California and New Jersey would be among the last states in the country to hold Republican primaries.

After Trump’s sweep of the primaries in the northeastern states, party establishment leaders began to realize that it was too late to halt Trump’s drive to the nomination, and were slowly beginning to accept the inevitable, that Trump would be their presidential nominee.

At the same time, Trump had recognized the need to adopt a more presidential demeanor to attract a wider audience of voters, as he turned more towards the challenge of defeating Hillary Clinton in November. He gave a generally well-received speech outlining his views on American foreign policy and promised to deliver more policy speeches to demonstrate a grasp of the domestic problems facing the country and the practical policies he is proposing to address them.


However, Trump’s status as the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party became a reality much sooner than anyone had expected. Trump and party establishment leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan were just starting to close the gaps between them in order to wage a successful general election campaign when Cruz and Kasich suddenly dropped out. Instead of completing their negotiations behind closed doors during the two months before the national convention in Cleveland, party establishment leaders were forced to take sides before they had time to come up with their usual canned sound bite answers.

Still, Ryan’s statement last week that he could not yet endorse Trump’s candidacy came as a surprise. He confirmed that the GOP establishment is still uncomfortable with Trump’s populist agenda as well as his unconventional style which has won him the overwhelming support of the GOP voter base. Many elected GOP officials are afraid of the negative impact of Trump’s name at the top of their ticket on their own re-election prospects in November.

Nevertheless, Republicans understand that they can have only one leader if they hope to win the upcoming election, and GOP voters have clearly given Trump that mandate. It is now up to Ryan and his establishment allies to make their peace with Trump and his campaign agenda, or step aside before Trump rolls over them as he did to his presidential rivals over the past 11 months.


Trump’s successful hostile takeover of the party was a predictable consequence of the GOP establishment’s repeated thwarting of the will of their voters.

Trump did not create their anger and discontent with party’s leaders, but he was the first to recognize it as a force that could be harnessed to propel him to the White House.

He took advantage of the large and badly fragmented field of GOP presidential candidates, many of whom had impressive political resumes and the support of establishment leaders. Trump used his lack of such credentials to buttress his claim to be the outsider that frustrated voters were looking for to express their anger at the establishment. His outspoken positions, aggressive style and politically incorrect rhetoric supported his iconoclastic image and further differentiated him from the rest of the GOP field.

Trump was not trying to compete with the other candidates based upon the standard political criteria by promoting himself as a conservative or a moderate. He ran as a successful businessman, portraying himself as a problem solver willing to try new, pragmatic approaches to solve chronic problems, such as immigration, a stagnant economy, unfair foreign competition, terrorism and the declining prestige of America in the rest of the world, which the gridlocked, self-absorbed government in Washington has been unable to resolve.


There have been plenty of signs of the brewing voter revolt, beginning with the rise of the grass roots Tea Party movement in 2009. It was as much a protest against the fiscal irresponsibility of the George W. Bush administration and the messy consequences of the invasion of Iraq as the liberal excesses of Bush’s successor.

Republican Party leaders rode the rising tide of voter outrage against the government in Washington to landslide victories in the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014, which gave them majority control over first the House and then the Senate. But GOP leaders blocked the newly elected Tea Party legislators from using that power to stymie Obama’s big government policies, or to defund and dismantle the main target of their opposition, Obamacare. Instead, the party establishment compromised with the White House and Democrats and did nothing to stop Obama from using his executive powers to make end runs around Congressional authority to implement his progressive agenda.


Another glaring example of the failure of the GOP leadership was its inability to attract a strong candidate to oppose Obama’s bid for re-election in 2012 despite his failure to revive the lagging US economy and polls showing his low job approval ratings and the opposition of most American voters to Obamacare, his most important domestic initiative. Instead, they chose Mitt Romney, who was elected Massachusetts governor on a moderate, pro-choice political platform. While governor, he instituted a state health reform plan which served as a prototype for Obamacare.

It is ironic that Romney, whose credentials as a conservative had long been suspect, led the effort to unify the party’s Stop Trump movement. In a March 3rd speech, Romney launched a scathing public attack on Trump, calling him “a phony” and “a fraud” and warning Republicans he would bring them down to defeat. He then helped to organize a massive negative ad campaign which largely failed in its goal of demonizing Trump in the eyes of voters. The subsequent effort to prevent Trump from accumulating enough delegates to secure the nomination before the national convention failed and was abandoned after Trump won the Indiana primary big.


Ryan, who was Romney’s 2012 vice presidential running mate, is now one of the most prominent figures in that gridlocked Washington establishment. He seems to have forgotten that his current position as Speaker is the result of an earlier stage of the grass roots conservative resolution, which forced out his predecessor, John Boehner, last October.

At that point, Republicans came to Ryan begging him to take over the job as one of the few figures who commanded enough respect across the party to hold together their majority in the House. Ryan was able to demand that the House conservatives who rebelled against Boehner promise to follow his lead as a condition for agreeing to accept the Speakership. Conservatives have been disappointed in his leadership, and specifically his support for a major budget compromise bill which did very little to scale back Obama’s progressive agenda.

Ryan is no longer in such a strong bargaining position against Trump, who has just received a ringing endorsement from Republican voters across the country. As the party’s nominee, controlling a majority of convention delegates, Trump will be in a strong position to rewrite the party’s platform to conform to his campaign promises, including those which do not conform to Ryan’s traditional GOP legislative agenda.


Last month, especially just after Cruz defeated Trump in the Wisconsin primary, a contested GOP convention still seemed possible. There was speculation that Ryan was positioning himself as a consensus nominee if neither Trump nor Cruz could win a majority. That speculation is now moot, but some still say that Ryan may be positioning himself at a political distance from Trump to enhance his chances for a GOP presidential run in 2020 should Trump lose badly to Clinton in November.

There is a simpler and less conspiratorial explanation for Ryan’s refusal to endorse Trump at this point. In examining his words more closely, Ryan did not reject Trump’s candidacy outright. He said that even though he is not ready to endorse Trump “right now. . . I hope to, though, and I want to. But I think what is required is that we unify the party, and I think the bulk of the burden on unifying the party will have to come from our presumptive nominee.”

Ryan seemed to be asking Trump for clarification, on behalf of fellow Republicans, that he is “a standard-bearer that bears our standards. I think conservatives want to know: Does he share our values and our principles on limited government, the proper role of the executive, adherence to the Constitution? There are a lot of questions that conservatives, I think, are going to want answers to.”

Ryan asked Trump for assurances that he would be the kind of candidate who “appeals to a wide, vast majority of Americans,” and that he would respect the constitutional limits of the presidency, which Obama has not. Trump could agree to that without going back on the campaign promises he has already made.

There is no denying that Ryan’s statement was a shot across Trump’s bow and a challenge to his growing authority as the party’s leader. Ryan is demanding that Trump respect the core of the leadership agenda in formulating the GOP campaign platform. Trump’s quick response, that he was “not ready to support Speaker Ryan’s agenda,” made it clear that Trump feels Republican voters have given him a mandate for change which he intends to use, even if that means butting heads with the Speaker.

Ryan has offered to resign from his role as the GOP national convention chairman if Trump asks him to, but other Republican leaders would much prefer to see the two patch up their differences to unite the party.


After the less than friendly public exchange between Ryan and Trump, there were media reports naming GOP figures lining up behind Ryan or Trump in anticipation of a continued power struggle between them. Former candidates for the nomination Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham are publicly dead set against Trump’s nomination. After all, Trump destroyed their hopes of reaching the White House and greatly embarrassed them in the process. Bush raised tens of millions of dollars and thought he would easily inherit the mantle, yet once Trump branded him as low energy he was done. Graham’s candidacy got no traction at all and he was forced to pull out early. However, two members of Ryan’s House Republican leadership, Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia and Dennis Ross of Florida, broke with the Speaker and declared their willingness to support Trump now.

Other GOP lawmakers have also come out on opposite sides of the Trump vs. Ryan controversy, depending on their judgement of how voters in their congressional district or state feel about Trump’s candidacy.

However, concerns that a split within the party’s leadership will hurt its candidates at the polls in November means that efforts must be made to resolve the differences between Ryan and Trump quietly and behind closed doors rather than in more screaming headlines.

The first major attempt to reach a reconciliation, in a face-to-face meeting between them this week, was arranged by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who has not hesitated to endorse Trump. He is hoping to unify the party behind Trump’s presidential candidacy as quickly as possible in order to stage a successful launch of the GOP’s general election campaign at the national convention in July.


Given his tour de force in the GOP primaries, Trump is expected to put on a presidential campaign unlike anything ever seen before. Unrestrained by financial dependence upon big donors, ties to special interests or the political establishment, whose faults he was keenly aware of, Trump has promised, if elected president, to put the interests of the American people first and restore their hope and pride in their country.

In the November election, Trump will be the perfectly matched opposite of Hillary Clinton. He is the political novice rewriting the presidential playbook while she is a veteran of more than 25 years in the Washington spotlight as first lady, New York senator, failed Democrat candidate for the presidential nomination and secretary of state.

Trump is a successful billionaire businessman and showman, while Hillary and her husband made their fortune after leaving the White House by cashing in on their political celebrity.

She is the ultimate control freak, tightly scripted and calculating, while Trump is an entertaining public speaker who is at his best while improvising in front of an audience.

He has been a celebrity whose private life has been an open book, while she is intensely private and guarded.

After all these years, even many of the Democrats who support her candidacy admit they don’t believe she is honest and trustworthy, while Trump, who has no prior government experience, has managed to convince ten million GOP primary voters to put the fate of the country in his hands.

But at this point, both are seasoned campaigners with a proven instinct for going for their opponent’s jugular.


During the primaries, the more Trump was criticized by the GOP and Democrat political establishments, and the mainstream media, the more appealing he became in the eyes of angry voters who were looking for an agent of change willing to disrupt a government that was no longer serving their interests.

His bold proposals to erect a wall on the Mexican border to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, and make Mexico pay for it, resonated with underemployed American workers who saw those immigrants taking their jobs because they were willing to work for less. The same was true for his proposal to slap a stiff tariff on China’s goods for its unfair competition against US firms in the international marketplace, and for his idea of protecting the homeland against San Bernardino-style terrorist attacks by foreign-born Muslims by barring them from entering this country until they can be properly screened.

Trump seized upon the frustration of Americans who felt that not only they but also their country was falling behind by making his slogan, “Let’s Make America Great Again.” Trump used his genius for marketing and branding products to create a new kind of presidential candidate whose message was keenly attuned to the feelings of the voters and addressed their deep-seated frustrations that no other political candidate would dare to mention, let alone campaign upon.

Trump has served as his own chief political strategist and speechwriter, in large part because he was the only one who fully understood the forces within the American electorate which he was trying to unleash. In the process, Trump used his talents and experience as an unrehearsed, spontaneous showman to create a new kind of political rally.


His events were part entertainment and part mystery, because nobody knew exactly what he might say next, or whom he would target. His rallies and acceptance speeches were irresistible to the mainstream media, which was afraid not to cover them for fear of missing the news scoop of the day. He connected to the people in a big way, expressing what was on the minds of many.

A Trump appearance is always entertaining and provocative, It is an irresistible combination for TV executives selling ads on their news programs priced according to the size of their audience. One of Trump’s early campaign boasts was that he drew the largest viewer audiences to the first GOP primary debates that had ever been seen.

Unlike other candidates, including Clinton and Trump’s GOP opponents, who limited their availability to the media in an effort to control their political image, Trump always made himself available for a media interview, and they were happy to have him on their shows because it guaranteed more viewers.

Sometimes, if he went too far, he would walk some of his statements back. He would almost never admit to having made a mistake, but he would subtly alter his most controversial positions in order to disarm his critics.

Throughout the primary campaign, Trump was the master of exploiting free media coverage. There was so much public interest in Trump and his candidacy, almost everything he did was considered to be worthy of coverage. Therefore, he did not have to spend much of his own money to run messages to counter the tidal wave of negative ads unleashed against him. He was always in the headlines and on the news programs defending his positions and attacking his critics even more fiercely, and far more effectively, than they were attacking him.

He set the agenda and had all the other candidates scrambling to respond and keep up with him. He had no handlers, prepared speeches and rehearsed responses to repeat robotically, like the others. He thought on his feet and spoke extemporaneously. That is why his answers to questions by interviewers were always interesting and different.

Media trackers confirmed that throughout the primary campaign, Trump attracted more free broadcast news coverage than all his GOP opponents combined.

It was usually a mutually beneficial arrangement. Trump could be counted upon to give the media a free show the audience would watch, while they in return gave him free access to that audience for his campaign message. But at one point, when he had a dispute with Fox News over arrangements for a candidate debate, Trump staged his own public rally in the same city and at the same time for the benefit of wounded service men in order to divide the media coverage. It also helped him that his opponents were scared to appear too often on TV and spurned most interview requests.


One after another, his opponents gradually came to understand that Trump was impervious to conventional political attacks because he never pretended to be a conventional political candidate. He freely admitted to having supported both Republican and Democrat candidates, such as Hillary Clinton, as well as liberal positions, and to having used his donations to their campaigns to advance his business interests.

Trump argues that because he is intimately familiar with the forces corrupting the political system, he is uniquely qualified to correct those abuses. Because he is independently wealthy, he says he can be trusted as president to do the people’s bidding, rather than furthering the interests of campaign contributors and special interest supporters at the expense of taxpayers.

By risking alienating Hispanics, women and apologists for Muslim terrorists in his blunt description of the chronic problems confronting this country, Trump demonstrated to voters that he will not be constrained in addressing problems by artificial boundaries of political correctness. By doing so, he speaks the language that most voters can understand and expresses their feelings in ways that many would dare not do themselves for fear of being labeled. They respect him even more because he is not afraid to be called a bigot, a racist or an Islamophobe by his critics.

Trump believes that he can win over voters who may have been initially put off because they believed the accusations against him. His steadily improving performances in the primaries have borne that out.


He has dominated the free media and defined the political coverage of almost every news cycle. This has enabled Trump to pound his message home even to voters who initially did not support him. When they decided to finally listen to what Trump was saying, many decided that they liked what they heard, because a lot of it sounded like something very different coming from a politician: common sense.

The Trump his supporters came to know was nothing like the candidate who was being portrayed by his enemies as a dangerous, bigoted egomaniac in one attack ad after another. Many of them decided that the negative portrayals of Trump could not be trusted.

This taught Trump’s opponents an expensive lesson. As the polls repeatedly indicated, once voters decided to support Trump, it was very hard to get them to change their minds. Jeb Bush and then the contributors to the Stop Trump campaign wasted tens of millions of dollars on negative ads that didn’t work.

Conventional politicians, like House Speaker Ryan, still do not understand the power of Trump’s appeal to disaffected voters, or why he is immune to the kind of accusations which would destroy a more conventional political candidate.


For his supporters, Trump’s promise to make America great again is music to their ears. It is the fulfillment of their deeply-held belief that such a goal is both necessary and attainable.

Trump is appealing to voters who feel that they are working harder to make a living because too many of the good paying jobs in this country have been lost due to unfair trade agreements with countries like Mexico and China which have been supported by presidents of both parties, and Hillary Clinton. He appeals to those convinced that too much of America’s wealth is being wasted to fight unnecessary wars abroad and on countries that don’t like the US, while America’s infrastructure is crumbling for lack of maintenance and new investment.

When Trump says that the US doesn’t win anymore, he is attacking the entire Washington political establishment which has forced us into treaties like NAFTA in which the US undertakes far too much of the financial burden for agreements on trade, defense and protecting the environment. Trump’s enemies call him an isolationist, but what he is really saying is that 70 years after the end of World War II and 25 years after the end of the Cold War, it is time for America’s allies and major trading partners around the world with developed economies to start paying their fair share of these burdens so that an economically depleted US can put its own financial house back in order.


In his major foreign policy speech last month, Trump said that US foreign policy must have clearer objectives and criteria for US military involvement, based primarily on its own national interests. Trump says the US must never be afraid to use military force when necessary, and never back down on its word to its loyal allies. But the US needs to think through the consequences of its military moves and have a clear strategy for victory and what to expect the day after, before committing its military forces, rather than squandering trillions of taxpayer dollars on foreign wars, like the one in Iraq, which it winds up losing.

Trump blames President Obama and Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state for a series of failed US policies over the past seven years. Obama’s premature withdrawal squandered the hard earned victory in Iraq, and allowed it to come under Iranian domination. A similar process is now taking place in Afghanistan.

The half-hearted US intervention in Libya which deposed Muammar Qaddhafi left the country in chaos. It set the stage for the terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012 and the recent rise of a major Libyan terrorist group closely affiliated with ISIS.

Trump says Obama’s refusal to intervene in Syria set the stage for the bloody civil war which has disrupted the entire region, and gave rise to ISIS.


Obama’s failure to back up his threat to punish Assad for using chemical weapons against the Syrian people destroyed the trust of America’s allies in commitments made to them by a US president. The subsequent deal between Syria and the US on the chemical weapons brokered by Valdimir Putin allowed Russia to re-establish its influence as a major player in the Middle East.

All of the US allies in the region feel betrayed by the US nuclear deal with Iran, and Obama’s subsequent refusal to hold Iran accountable for violating the Security Council sanctions still in place on missile development and weapons. Trump says that as president, he will make the US respected again by the rest of the world.

Clinton has been running on her record as Obama’s secretary of state. As a result, she can’t escape at least some responsibility for his many foreign policy failures, including the hostile US government treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Clinton’s defenders in the mainstream media claim she was lobbying Obama for a more militaristic, Cold War-style approach to American foreign policy. In fact, they claim Mrs. Clinton was very much a part of that Washington foreign policy establishment. But Trump believes the establishment’s approach is also obsolete and has promised as president to develop a more flexible approach to today’s US foreign policy challenges.


Trump will attack Clinton’s performance as secretary of state in ways which have nothing to do with his or her personality or character.

Trump will also attack Clinton’s newly adopted progressive domestic agenda, forced upon her by Bernie Sanders’ success in the Democrat primaries. Progressive proposals, such as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, without helping small business owners to pay for it, are likely to further hamper economic and job growth rather than improve the standard of living for the typical American worker.

Trump understands that the target of the populist revolt which has swept the grass roots of both major parties is not limited to the Obama administration. It goes back at least 15 years, to both Democrat and Republican administrations which have overseen a stalled economy which has failed to produce a pay increase for middle income workers since 2000. Some of them are progressive Democrats who have chosen to support Bernie Sanders in their primaries rather than Hillary Clinton. Trump’s positions against free trade agreements and the corruption by moneyed interests of the American political system are close enough to enable Trump to attract some of the Sanders voters in the general election.

Conservative commentator Larry Kudlow, who was an economic advisor to the Reagan administration, believes that Trump’s task is to prove that he can keep the promises he made to voters in the course of wiping out an entire field of highly qualified Republican opponents for the nomination.


Trump is only a few points behind Clinton in most national polls, and he has more than enough time before the general election to close that gap. A new Quinnipiac poll of voters in the three most important presidential swing states, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida finds Trump holding a 4 point lead over Clinton in Ohio and Clinton holding a statistically insignificant 1 point lead over Trump in Florida and Pennsylvania. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3 points.

No presidential candidate has won election since 1960 without winning at least two of the three states. Even more significantly, Trump is effectively tied with Clinton in Pennsylvania, which has not voted Republican in a presidential election since 1988.

The same poll also found that voters in all three states prefer Trump over Clinton when it comes to handling the economy, protecting them against terrorism, on being a strong leader, and they believe that Trump is more honest and trustworthy than Clinton.

Therefore, the complaints by Trump’s critics in the GOP that he will lead the party to disaster at the polls in November are premature.

When Bob Dole was nominated in 1996, he was 17 points behind Bill Clinton, yet the Republicans were ecstatic with his selection and nobody mentioned that he was not the kind of candidate who could lead to victory. Even though he managed to make up half of that deficit, Dole went down to a crushing defeat.

With all the media attention being focused on Trump, Hillary Clinton’s troubles in dispatching the challenge from Bernie Sanders is being largely ignored. If not for the Democrat superdelegates who vote as they please, and not necessarily as the voters want, the old Brooklyn-born socialist senator from Vermont might have been able to deny her the nomination. Her poor performance against him is further evidence that Hillary is a very weak candidate. If Trump can convince people that he can do the job of president, he can beat her.

People are fed up with what has been going on the past few years. They want a strong leader who will convincingly take on ISIS and stop immigrants and foreign countries from taking away American jobs. They want taxes cut and the growing big brother government cut down to size.

Trump won the nomination by being the quintessential political outsider who promises to give the people what they are demanding. He has thrown out the Washington playbook and pledged to do away with the way business has been done there for decades.


More than a few Democrat political analysts have dismissed Trump as unelectable, saying he does not have the temperament or qualifications to serve as president. Liberals claim that Trump’s rhetoric and campaign positions have alienated so many women and members of minority groups that he has doomed his chances to win a majority in November’s general election. They are underestimating him the same way that Trump’s Republican primary opponents did.

Other Democrat advocates are having second thoughts after Trump’s run of landslide primary victories called an early halt to the Republican race for the nomination. Those among them who are honest note that Trump’s supporters are very loyal to him and that in his most recent primary victories, he has won with voters across the board, including rich and poor, men and women, the highly educated and the not so educated.


After attending a Trump rally in Carmel, Indiana, one liberal columnist wrote, “After almost 25 years of covering politics, nothing compares to a Trump speech. That was not a compliment but rather a reminder of the power of something that is new and different. This is particularly powerful in politics, with so many voters so tired of predictable, talking-point politicians.”

He also expressed admiration for Trump’s ability to fashion “crisp” and “easily digestible” political promises that resonate with his audience.

Conservative Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who announced that he would vote for Cruz in the primary, at the same time went out of his way to avoid alienating Trump. Like him or not, even before he sealed the nomination, Pence gave Trump his respect as the de facto leader of his party.


Trump’s campaign rallies generate an enthusiasm that is unmatched in American politics. His TV appearances are also far more entertaining than even the best traditional stump speech.

Donald Trump’s spontaneity, showmanship and provocative rhetoric have further endeared him to his supporters and helped him to connect with them on a deeper, emotional level. For many Trump supporters, his election as president is as compelling a cause as the 2008 election of Barack Obama was for many liberals.

Despite no lack of effort, Trump’s Republican enemies were unable to find a strategy that worked against him. Hillary Clinton is not likely to be able to do any better against him in the general election. In fact, as a programmed, old style candidate, she is likely to be buffeted about from his attacks from all sides.

But all that is in jeopardy until the Republican members of the Never Trump camp recognize that it’s either Trump or Clinton, and any vote withheld from Trump will enable Clinton to win the White House and continue what Obama has been doing over the past seven years.



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