The most intriguing aspect of this election is, of course, the success of Donald Trump. As I watched him announce his candidacy for President of The United States, I was reminded of the time when President Obama roasted him at the White House correspondents’ dinner in 2011. Trump’s ranting announcement seemed only to reinforce the notion that the sole purpose of his entry would be to allow late-night comedians to thrive for the next few months.
Today, the script has changed significantly, and people aren’t laughing so much. Having won three primaries in a row, Trump has the highest chance of becoming the republican nominee for president, and more importantly, leader of the republican party. It doesn’t seem to matter that Trump’s plan to Make America Great Again simply involves shedding political correctness, and being tough on Mexico, China, and immigrants. But what is most surprising is that the field was stacked with governors and senators, and still it didn’t matter. Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, Bobby Jindal, and Rand Paul did not stand a chance. Why?
I think for three main reasons:
(1) The republican party has not been interested in governing. They have controlled the House since 2010, and both the House and the Senate since 2014. And what do they have to show for it? Not much. The worst thing is that they like to say so themselves. Ted Cruz boasts of his obstructive activities. Marco Rubio doesn’t even see the point of being in the senate, and is running away what little he tried to do. Every bill has been an internal battle, and negotiation with democrats is considered equivalent to surrender. It seems that these senators have forgotten that the President cannot originate bills. And they pledge not to use Executive Actions. So how can they get anything done, that too without negotiating with the democrats? And so they have stood on the podium next to Trump with their thin résumés and no accomplishments. Why do they want the highest job in government when they have failed to contribute to a functioning government?
(2) The major issue for governors (other than charisma) is the “Mitt Romney problem”, by which I mean the problem that candidates who don’t prove their strong conservative credentials (aka, government IS the problem, no taxes, guns everywhere, pro-life, anti-gay rights, etc.) risk losing the republican base during the primaries, particularly in the South. They then have to carefully alter these positions to win back moderates in the general election. This scenario has caused the candidates to take outlandish positions, and often abandon some of their key accomplishments in office. The net result is that their task is reduced to pandering, and not making a case that is rooted in policy and practicality. And it turns out, it is easy to pander. Just compare the policy positions of these governors and senators with those of Trump, and there are hardly any major differences. The only issue I can recall is a discussion about whether it was acceptable that Russia is working with Assad in Syria (but this issue seems to have died down). Everyone will lower taxes, produce splendid economic growth, repeal Obamacare, obliterate ISIS, take out China and Russia, etc. Since nothing is rooted in policy, Trump has can sound both tougher (I will build a wall and deport 11 million people), and reasonable (I get along with everybody, Planned Parenthood provides essential services for women, etc.). In other words, Trump has simply “out-pandered” the GOP field.
(3) The Republican electorate wants to win the presidency badly. They are tired of losing to the democrats for 8 years, and given that everybody is essentially saying the same thing policy wise, they want to pick a strongman who can wrest the presidency.
And so, the party of Ronald Reagan could soon crown Donald Trump as its leader. Does anyone have a clue as to what he would actually do if he became president? Now that’s the elephant in the room.