Donald Trump’s Victory
I’m trusting the reader will assume that the following is an explanation, not an endorsement.
How could a novice politician have demolished a field of supposedly accomplished and savvy competitors with such apparent ease? The nation watched in stunned amazement as he dispatched Governors, Senators and even other political “outsiders” in rapid succession. With every victory the chorus would rise saying that he had this time (finally) hit his peak and it would now all come crashing down. It never did. And so, on July 21, 2016, Donald Trump accepted the nomination of a party whose establishment despised him and with a significant minority of members who had difficulty convincing themselves to support him.
I believe that Mr. Trump achieved this astonishing result due to two decisive factors, those being:
- He positioned himself as the unrestrained spokesman for the anger and frustration of a large segment of citizens who had watched their country being “fundamentally transformed” by the Obama administration without effective opposition by the Republican Party, even though they had been given control of both chambers of Congress.
- He deemphasized the role of Constitutional governance and emphasized his personal success, wisdom and will to power.
The feckless response of the Republican leadership in Congress to President Obama’s policies created the space necessary for Mr. Trump’s candidacy. These supposed tough politicians were obviously cowed by the absurd and disingenuous argument that to effectively oppose the policies of a President who happens to be black, is racist.
Yes, they did oppose “Obama Care,” the IRS targeting of conservative groups, immigration and many foreign policies (among many others). However, to many citizens their opposition appeared to be feeble if not merely for show.
So, the issue was effectiveness. Congress has precious few credible tools by which to reign in an Executive Branch that ignores and bypasses legitimate roles of the Legislative Branch. Under normal conditions, the only credible tool is the “power of the purse.” That is, Congress can refuse to appropriate the money necessary for the Executive Branch to fund its policies.
Once President Obama assumed office it was immediately clear that Congressional Democrats had no interest in upholding the prerogatives of Congress. So, in 2010 and 2014, the Republicans won control of the House and Senate, respectively. The promises of Republicans to effectively stand up to what many viewed as a corrupt, out of control Executive Branch suddenly evaporated once they assumed office.
So, with regard to the first point above, Donald Trump entered the campaign with statements that made it absolutely clear he was not cowed by the political correctness that had shielded the President in particular and progressives in general from direct political attack. These statements, almost because of their coarseness, appeared to some to be a breath of fresh air. Here’s what he said on June 16, 2015 while announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
This formulation was designed to signal to the many U.S. citizens concerned about illegal immigration that Trump was not beholden to the PC speech limitations imposed by our elites (of both parties). It certainly was a key reason that Mr. Trump catapulted to the front of the Republican pack (and stayed there). But, what can be said other than that this was a crude and cruel characterization? My point is that Mr. Trump was likely using his skills as a self-promoter and marketeer to differentiate his product (himself) from every other candidate for the Republican nomination. And, it worked.
Mr. Trump thus benefited from a visceral, emotional reaction to someone who finally had the guts to stand and fight. In fact, the more outrageous the non-PC statement, the more convinced were his supporters that he was the man to turn back the progressive tide. It made no apparent difference that Mr. Trump had, for decades, lived comfortably in the hyper-liberal bubble that encompasses New York elite society. In spite of Mr. Trump’s demonstrably liberal past, his core support was so powerful that it withstood lies and gaffes that would have destroyed most any other candidate.
With regard to the second point, the serial failures of Congress and the Supreme Court (e.g., their “Obama Care” decision) to effectively constrain the Obama Administration undermined many a citizen’s confidence in the Constitution. For all of Mr. Trump’s opponents, none had used their political office to oppose President Obama’s policies with the vigor of Ted Cruz. Yes, Senator Cruz won the second most number of delegates and was second to last to drop out, but, in the end, Mr. Trump decisively defeated him.
My conclusion is that many Republican primary voters rejected Senator Cruz because he clung to the Constitution as the primary means by which the people should oppose overbearing government. After almost eight years of work to create Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress, with virtually nothing to show for it, they concluded that Senator Cruz, for all of his commitment to conservative principles, had placed his hope in a demonstrably ineffective source of power.
Finally, returning to the first point, it’s likely that many of Mr. Trump’s supporters viewed the cruelty and crudity with which he treated his opponents as a marker of power that would effectively oppose the progressive’s march towards a “fundamentally changed” nation. And so, Mr. Trump, in spite of conduct clearly unbecoming of a presidential candidate (or any office of public trust), won the Republican nomination for President.