Sunday, August 30, 2015

‘Not a politician’?

During the 1996 presidential campaign a panelist on a Christian radio talk show noted that GOP candidate Bob Dole, a deficit hawk when he was in the U.S. Senate, changed his position to support tax cuts. The panelist said, essentially, “That’s what I wanted to hear.”

Of course he did — that’s precisely why Dole changed his position, to get such people to vote for him.

I recall that exchange in reference to Donald Trump’s leading the Republican Party in the race for the White House. Many people supporting him — including, I understand, more than a few evangelical Christians — are saying because, well, he’s saying what they believe, most notably with his stance on illegal immigration.

In other words, in that narrative he’s not one of those mealy-mouthed politicians not willing to take a stand.

Here’s the problem: It could be that Trump is taking that stand simply to get those votes; indeed, it’s likely that his utter lack of polish is a campaign tactic in its own right. (Remember that Sarah Palin, when she was selected to run with John McCain in 2008, came out trash-talking but eventually had her head handed to her.)

See, you simply can’t run a campaign on anger toward some target; at some point you have to do brick-and-mortar things and, importantly, get the money to pay for them. Building a wall along the southern border with Mexico and deporting the undocumented, as Trump said he wanted to do, would cost billions that this nation simply doesn’t have. Of course, when you’re trying to take a political posture details are irrelevant. Trouble is that when you do you give people the optimum opportunity to vote against you.

At some point, Trump will need to turn down his rhetoric or get specific or realistic about his plans. If he doesn’t, and at this point it doesn’t seem likely, he’s toast.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Trumped by Trump — and trumping himself

I’ve believed from the start that Hillary Clinton was the odds-on favorite to take the White House next year. I must admit, however, that I didn’t foresee the help she’s getting from Donald Trump.

According to polls, Trump, running as a Republican, has twice as much support over his next rival for the nomination and as such causing problems for the GOP because of his unwillingness to say what it wants him to. Moreover, during the debate among the 10 leading candidates last week, he wouldn’t rule out an independent campaign if he doesn’t get the official nod.

Thing is, Trump’s appeal is based on his willingness to say what much of the GOP base feels, especially with his broadsides against immigration, but without tying that to the rest of its platform. That’s problematic because the folks who control the party have been trying for decades to paint themselves as political “outsiders” when, really, they’ve never been anything of the sort. In other words, Trump’s heretofore successful campaign is a repudiation of, frankly, their wanting to have it both ways. And since he's too rich to be bought, he's painting them into a corner.

But civil-rights leader Al Sharpton, who once worked for the late R&B singer James Brown, had an interesting take on Trump, whom he apparently knows — and why Trump doesn't stand a chance of becoming president. Sharpton made the analogy that Trump was playing the Apollo Theater when at some point he'll need to tailor his act to Lincoln Center. That is, it's one thing to try to grab attention and another entirely to establish yourself as a serious, polished candidate who knows what he's doing.

Now, people may make the argument that Trump's "not a politician." Sorry, folks, but like it or not, yes, he is precisely because he's running for office and you don't want to give people an opportunity to vote against you. At some point he has to put together a coherent plan that he says he intends to implement if he's elected and not just make things up on the fly; as such, simply "voting them out" doesn't represent a strategy.

I can't say just yet how far Trump will go to get elected or whether he'll survive the primary/caucus season. But at things stand now, he is the alternative to politics as usual, and that's appropriately frightening to the Republican Party.