The GOP doesn’t know it yet, but they need Trump more than he needs them…
Donald Trump will not be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. He does not have the infrastructure, he does not have the organization, he does not have the discipline. So why are so many Republican ThoughtLeaders intent on casting him from the race like a leper?
Why does Senator Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) say that Trump should be “disqualified” from the race? Why does Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) say that Trump is a “cancer on conservatism” that must be “discarded,” a “barking carnival act”? Why does Senator Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) deride Trump’s supporters as “crazies,” while the rest of the Republican establishment nods silently?
Is any of this smart?
The answer, of course, is no. Alienating Trump’s voting base will lead Trump to run third party, destroying any opportunity for Republicans to beat Hillary Clinton. Establishment characters calling curses from the heavens down upon Trump grants him credibility with the same group of conservatives who believe that establishment attacks are a badge of honor. If those conservatives feel Trump is treated unfairly, it will widen the gap between the donors in the Republican Party and the base of the Republican Party.
Republicans should, instead, see Trump’s presence in the race as a grand opportunity. That’s because it is an opportunity. Here are seven reasons why:
Trump Is A Stalking Horse. Let’s imagine that you could design a candidate who would draw nearly 100% of the media attention at the beginning of a race, long before polls mattered or primaries were scheduled to take place. Let’s also imagine that this candidate had no real shot at winning any of those primaries, and that the candidate would eventually either blow himself out or fade away after the curiosity factor worked its way through the public system. Wouldn’t you, as a rival candidate, beg for such a candidate to enter the race? After all, it would give you the ability to raise money quietly, do grassroots work without media scrutiny; it would force the media to lavish its attention on your rivals across the political aisle while spending their focus on this Big Name Candidate. That candidate is Trump. According to polls from Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia this week, Hillary Clinton loses to Rubio, Governor Scott Walker (R-WI), and former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL). Does that happen if the media spend all their time and effort debunking those three candidates? Or does it happen because the media are so distracted by Trump that the other three get an opportunity to fly under the radar? Barack Obama was able to use Hillary Clinton’s high name recognition in 2008 to fly under the radar all the way to the nomination; by the time Hillary tried to define him, it was too late. Other Republicans could do the same here.
Trump Generates Attention. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani recently pointed out, “Trump is in that debate, it’s going to get three times the audience.” That’s exactly right. Primary debates aren’t exclusively designed to help Republicans pick their candidate – the debates are also designed to allow future general election voters to get first impressions of the other candidates. The more direct contact between voters and candidates without the filter of the media, the better. Furthermore, Republicans have been caught in the vice of media malpractice when it comes to issues like illegal immigration: the media won’t cover such issues unless a Republican makes a mistake, in which case the cameras descend en masse. Trump solves that conundrum: he says outrageous things, the media show up, and the other candidates get a chance to speak rationally on topics the media nearly always ignore. Never underestimate the benefit of someone who can bring busloads of media down to Laredo, Texas just to listen to him talk.
Trump Draws Contrast With Other Candidates. So, you don’t like Trump. Then you should love Trump in the race, given that he offers the greatest opportunity to his rivals to draw a contrast. Senator Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is charmless and vanilla as a politician – and even he has become likeable in response to Trump. If Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) seeks to become a beloved figure in mainstream media circles, all he has to do is continue to attack Trump. If Jeb Bush doesn’t like Trump’s position on immigration, Trump provides him a painless opportunity for a Sister Souljah moment. Free debate is the essence of primary season. Embrace it, or fall to the power of Trump.
Trump Attacks The Media. In 2012, Newt Gingrich played the designated anti-media attack dog. He did it well, and he did it effectively: it moved him to the top of the polls. Trump does the same now. He has rhetorically punched members of the media ranging from CNN’s Anderson Cooper to MSNBC and Telemundo’s Jose Diaz Balart. He seems uncowed by media pressure – in fact, he embraces it. Were Trump not attacking the media, someone else would have to do it. Thankfully, other Republicans like Carly Fiorina have jumped on the anti-media bandwagon, and are punching just as effectively – or even more effectively – than The Donald.
Trump Channels Anger. Republicans seem pathologically fearful of the anger of their base. Taught by the media that “angry white men” cannot fuel a party, they instead insist that they will out-compassion the left, a foolhardy proposition given that the left’s only calling card is compassion. Never mind that the left has consistently fueled its campaigns with rage against George W. Bush, “white privilege,” sexism, and other built-up monsters. The right has internalized criticisms that it must never humor the justified anger of its base. Not Trump. Trump embraces the feeling of frustration from the base, and does so in unapologetic fashion. That unapologetic nature is attractive to conservatives who feel as though they have elected Republicans, then watched those same Republicans surrender again and again. Other Republicans should watch Trump’s outrage-channeling and take notes.
Trump Doesn’t Buy Into Foolish Demographic Arguments. For years, the establishment Republicans have been telling the base to shut up on immigration; if they don’t, the argument goes, then Hispanics will vote heavily Democrat, shutting Republicans out of political power. Immediately after the 2012 election, for example, Charles Krauthammer wrote, “They should be a natural Republican constituency: striving immigrant community, religious, Catholic, family-oriented and socially conservative (on abortion, for example). The principle reason they go Democratic is the issue of illegal immigrants.” This is nonsense. Hispanic immigrants lean heavily left on most major issues. More importantly, running from the immigration issue, and thereby alienating the Republican base, doesn’t move Republicans closer to victory: Mitt Romney could have won 69 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012 and still have lost. Romney lost not because Hispanics didn’t vote his way, but because white turnout was too low, and because he didn’t drive outsized turnout from Evangelical Christians, among others. As Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics told Politico today, “Certainly the GOP shouldn’t be antagonistic to Hispanics, but the big question is how much outreach should they do before they start to turn off working-class white voters. Because from an Electoral College numbers perspective, the net gain in embracing some form of immigration reform just isn’t there.”
Trump Doesn’t Suck Money Out Of The Race. For all the talk of Trump as a distraction, he certainly doesn’t suck money out of the Republican race: in his last FEC filing, filed last week, Trump had drawn just over 60 donors. He’s self-funding.
Trump is doing a lot of good for the Republican Party in terms of exposure, media misdirection, and issue-raising; he’s firing up the base, allowing his opponents to draw contrasts with him, and he’s doing it all without tapping out those who want to give cash. If Republicans can’t beat him, what chance do they have of touching Hillary Clinton? They ought to stop whining and start taking notes – or at least making hay while the media sun shines on The Donald.