The verdict is in and Donald Trump wins—so far. Now we await sentencing.
Indiana’s normally inconsequential primary which Trump swept easily has driven the two remaining and barely viable contenders—Ted Cruz & John Kasich—out of the race. It also dealt a lethal blow to California’s Republicans who were hoping they could be the deciding factor.
Trump was counted out numerous times –I was among those predicting his early demise once the voters caught on!
They did catch on and liked what they saw which was different than what a majority of the pundits, political experts and sage columnists were seeing.
Trump has actually been running a third party candidacy that has gone by another name—though the Democrats did not fully recognize its potency and Republicans did not want to.
He has marched through every region of the country piling up victories and delegates, oblivious to the clamor which had consigned him long ago to the political grave yard. It turns out we may have been dusting off the monument too soon.
Before dissecting this phenomenon it should be mentioned that winning nominations does not guarantee winning elections. Fifty percent of the nominees always lose.
For those keeping score, between 1789 and now, of the 44 sent to the White House (excluding those serving as “acting” President because of circumstances such as assassination), 18 claimed membership in the Republican Party to 15 Democrats.
To be technical, while Andrew Johnson is considered a Democrat; in 1865 when sworn in he was actually a member of the so-called National Union Party.
Winning the nomination may even have been an afterthought for Trump who clearly relishes the idea of battle and public attention and must have known entering the fray that he needed to climb a mountain much higher than his much-touted Wall.
Something which should have been far more difficult to construct—an eager army of true believers—hardly needed to be asked. They were ripe for the pickings and all they required was a fearless, savvy, determined and convincing recruiter who sensed their yearnings.
They found him in Trump who mastered the art of persuasion years ago as a consummate salesman that could sell the Brooklyn Bridge if it were not already off the market.
He did one better—he sold himself which is what every successful (a debatable term) politician must ultimately do. He wrapped himself up in a package which the hungry voters always looking for bargains have found irresistible.
Not to belabor the metaphor, until now most have probably not bothered to see what is inside and many are ready to make the down payment even if it comes with no guarantees.
The question now is can this unconventional love affair last or will it rapidly fade if the seemingly unacceptable candidate decides he must revert to the more conventional conduct and methods of campaigning akin to the ordinary, less remarkable opponents he has dispatched?
In the current age what are the limitations on an insurgent, ungovernable candidate for the nation’s highest office?
To date, Trump has avoided the messy task of defining how he proposes to turn bluster into actual governance, preferring instead to talk in vague generalities.
For example in the perilous matters of foreign policy—where his prospective opponent, Hillary Clinton, excels, he talks cheerfully about brow-beating our adversaries into submission:
“If we’re going to make America number one again, we’ve got to have a president who knows how to get tough with China, how to out-negotiate the Chinese, and how to keep them from screwing us at every turn. Time to Get Tough, by Donald Trump, Dec 5, 2011.
Or he is simply dismissive of government:
“The career diplomats who got us into many foreign policy messes say I have no experience in foreign policy. They think that successful diplomacy requires years of experience and an understanding of all the nuances that have been carefully considered before reaching a conclusion. Only then do these pin-striped bureaucrats CONSIDER taking action. Crippled America, by Donald Trump, Nov 3, 2015
Nuances and careful explanations do not seem to matter to Trump’s audiences. What is said is much less important than how it is said. Passion and tone are the key drivers—not content, depth of knowledge or even a modicum of experience.
Bill Clinton (a certified intellectual) famously adapted a put-down version of the old Navy design principle (KISS) “keep it short and simple” as his 1992 campaign’s mantra—“It’s the economy stupid.” The message got through.
Trump accomplishes much the same thing with a more uplifting slogan—“Make America Great Again.”
For those basically content with their lives and prospering for which it is “mission (mostly) accomplished”, he is offering cures for problems that do not exist. They will not be voting for him.
However perverse, Trump has been masterful in tapping into the anxieties of another group—millions strong and left behind to whom these problems are very real, who likely will never share in the bounty which he openly flaunts, and who will only be thrown into further debt and become angrier by the economic and social policies he espouses.
Trump’s genius is an ability to create excitement—an ingredient which President “no drama” Obama relied upon as a campaigner that lost much of its potency as the heavy demands of the office took its toll and was gradually replaced by near total frustration.
That factor has helped propel Trump into serious contention. However it is not the principal force behind his dramatic ascent.
The voters, both Republican and Democrat, have signaled disgust with politics as usual and the usual politicians. Trump did not have to work at making a difference. It came naturally.
By just being himself whatever that is—though no doubt a more complex organism than advertised—he redefined the art and science of running for president.
This does not sit well with those in power who resent upstarts that have not gone through the trouble of becoming mayors, governors and senators.
This disorderly, undisciplined, personality-centered, say-and-do-anything campaign may not get him into the Oval Office and it might still go down in flames if he is painted as the extremist that many label him, and it sticks.
But that’s another column.
His immediate challenge in the general election will be running as an unconventional candidate in the face of intense pressure from the top command in his party who believe they should be setting the rules and are decidedly uncomfortable with the people’s choice.
As of now a majority of the primary voters who bothered to vote have made their selection and the choice is Donald Trump.