Trump the GOP!

Two significant political systems in the United States are apparently mystified by the unfolding events in the Republican race for the White House. One of them, according to the media, is the Republican Party itself, or at least the “establishment” representatives of that organization. The GOP obviously wants someone from its approved political stable to ascend to the nomination, preferably Jeb! or Marco Rubio, or maybe even Ted Cruz despite his rebellious actions against Party rule. Unfortunately for them, the race has been dominated by an outsider named Donald Trump. There are reports that the Party has been discussing methods for sidelining Trump, but their options have been circumscribed by the Trump campaign’s repeated threats to take his popular following into a third-party run if the GOP doesn’t “treat him with respect”.

In the meantime, pundits appearing on media outlets have for months been predicting that the Trump phenomenon will either flame out or gradually fade away. There is ample precedent for this in the 2012 GOP race, in which candidates such as Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain briefly led in the polls before dropping abruptly out of the running. This year, that pattern has been matched by Ben Carson, who briefly showed signs of challenging the Donald’s lead before his personal narrative and his poll numbers collapsed. Thus far, however, Trump has failed to fail, has in fact maintained a double-digit lead, and few of the experts seem to have any clue about why he succeeds.

The fact, however, is that it’s not all that difficult to explain. After all, Trump seems to be the ultimate expression of the Republican political action plan of the past three decades. In simple summary, that plan included pandering to racist attitudes (i.e., the “southern strategy”), glorification of free-market philosophy, disparagement of government, and promotion of military strength and the national security apparatus. To spread and reinforce these various messages conservatives have worked to expand and “purify” their media outlets, including the Fox News channel and talk radio. All of this has significantly strengthened their doctrine and their influence in rural areas throughout the United States, especially in the central and southern states.

Donald Trump is an experienced (even Barnumesque) self-publicist in what is usually called “reality” programming. He knows how to tap into human emotional responses and to take advantage of the media’s constant search for new and sensational material. He has taken the GOP/conservative playbook and pushed it a bit further to attract controversy and attention. Yes, he has pushed the “birther” meme, denied political correctness, and attacked the mainstream media, and he is an an almost ideal non-government “business leader” exemplar. But there’s more. Where other candidates talk about closing our borders, he called for not only building a wall but making Mexico pay for it. He joined the others in rejecting undocumented Mexicans, but went further in calling the immigrants criminals and rapists sent by the Mexican government. He not only complained about Muslim extremism, he called for registration and an end to all Muslim immigration. He doubled down on the birther issue by extending it to Ted Cruz. And it wasn’t only that he pushed the boundaries of conservative insanity; he did so in a media-savvy way, introducing each new expanded proposal separately, a few weeks apart, so that the coverage of each new statement would enter the public discourse just as the previous one was disappearing from view. The media and the social echoverse has assisted him in this by making an issue even of non-events such as the trio of girls who performed at a Trump rally on January 13 (the “USA Freedom Kids”). All of this has kept the name Trump in the news almost continuously for many months, beginning even before he was the clear front-runner. He even gained most of the media coverage about the January 28 GOP debate, an event he refused to attend.

Trump is also keenly aware of the preferences of his base supporters. Look at the early controversy about his comments about John McCain. He said that McCain was not a war hero. Much of the media speculated that disparaging McCain’s record would be the end of Trump’s campaign, the moment in which he had finally overstepped the bounds of acceptable political speech. Yet it was not the end. In fact, Trump’s support actually solidified. The fact is, what Trump’s campaign knows, and the media seems to forget, is that the members of the dedicated subset of the Republican Party that continues to support Donald Trump really do not like John McCain at all, much less venerate the senior senator enough to defend his war record. We also must remember that these people are among the same groups who in 2004 jumped onto the “swift boat” bandwagon and rejected the very real war heroism of presidential candidate John Kerry simply because they disagreed with his politics.

Now, after the debate on February 13th, commentators are once again speculating that Trump has threatened his campaign by insisting that the 9/11 attacks occurred during the reign of George W. Bush. But once again they will be wrong. Trump said essentially the same thing in a debate in October last year and it hasn’t hurt his performance in the polls or in actual voting. For a variety of reasons Jeb’s brother isn’t all that popular among Trump’s supporters.

Trump’s base support comes from people who have absorbed the conservative message on Fox news and talk radio, who have accepted the relentless misrepresentations and outright lies and internalized the message. They will tell you that President Obama is a Muslim (or a fellow traveller) who was born in Kenya and who wants to take away their rights and their guns and open the homeland to terrorists and turn the country away from Christian culture. They believe that Hillary Clinton will be more of the same, or worse.

But that part is not the bad news for the Republican Party. Trump’s followers also have internalized the wholly undemocratic theme, popular on talk radio and among many new members of congress, that determined leaders can impose their agenda on the opposition without compromise. They believe that the current GOP establishment leadership has betrayed them by failing to put an end to Obamacare and Planned Parenthood and welfare and the war on Christmas, all of the actions that have been promised in repeated election cycles but which have not yet been realized. More than that, they also accept the modern conservative concept that government cannot be trusted, a concept that includes all of the current representatives in Congress and recent GOP leaders. They believe that Donald Trump, the outsider and master negotiator and powerful leader and uncompromising “decider”, can indeed take control of the government and bend it to his will, and “make America great again”. And he has reinforced that view, and his outsider credentials, by claiming that the current leaders of the United States are “losers”, “people who are selling this country down the drain”. In this charge, of course, he doesn’t specify anyone, letting his followers conclude that he is talking about the GOP leadership as well—yet another reason they are sticking with him.

It is not necessary for The Donald to provide details or policy papers about how he would accomplish any of this, and he knows that any such explanations would only minimize the impact of his proposals, as would backtracking on his more outrageous statements. He need not apologize, nor explain, nor alter, nor give in to what he and his supporters call “political correctness”, and he knows well that he cannot do any of those things that would make him sound weak or subject to the will of others. His simple mythology is that he has controlled his business dealings and been successful, and that that proves he will be an effective president.

Thanks to their control of a strictly defined and repetitive message the conservative movement has created a devoted fan base, a following that actually expects their representatives to accomplish the things that they have been told are necessary. In order to be elected, those representatives in Congress have demonstrated their devotion to the cause by such inanity as voting more than 60 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). Unfortunately they, including all of the establishment GOP candidates, have failed to deliver. Now the GOP is confronted with a popular contender who is definitely NOT a current member of the government, who has demonstrated dictatorial powers on a reality TV show, and who expresses all of the current politically correct GOP dogma (sorry, I couldn’t resist), and more, and who knows how to attract media attention without spending a lot of money on advertising. He is a rock star covering all of the modern conservative hits and fulfilling the emotional and ideological needs of many of the Party’s most devoted groupies.

The Republicans have created the milieu in which Trump can excel, and now they wonder what has happened to their primary? Doctor Frankenstein, meet the logical outcome of your decades of effort.

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