How do you solve a problem like Donald Trump?
Well, assuming you think Trump is a problem, you certainly don’t do it by yelling at him to shut up — a strategy very unlikely to be effective with this particular candidate. You don’t do it by expecting conservative media to drum him off the public stage, either. A healthy political party handles a challenge like Trump by understanding what his supporters are concerned about, and producing more durable candidates who can address those concerns.
In other words, the other Republicans need to beat him, and not with the nasty little backbiting tactics the GOP Establishment normally uses to get rid of upstarts. One of the problems with those tactics is that they tend to validate liberal critiques of the Republican Party as a whole, and drive away voters, including disgusted conservative stalwarts who have no interest in further padding the kiddie seats occupied by the comfortable leaders of a permanent minority party.
People like Trump because they want a winner, and he never stops acting like one. Notice how one of his go-to insults for those who cross his path is “loser.” He might be winging his campaign on policy, but he knows exactly what he’s doing on style.
Forbes generated some social-media buzz on Friday morning by reporting on a study that purportedly proves only 39.4 percent of Trump’s “audience” is eligible to vote, compared with numbers in the low-to-mid 90s for his top competitors (and a curiously low 85.5 percent for Mr. Establishment, Jeb Bush.)
There are many questions to be asked about this study before drawing any conclusions. For one thing, it sounds like it measures Trump’s online social-media audience, which may be energetic indeed, but by no means is large enough to account for his leading position in broader polls. Social media audiences are notoriously difficult to analyze, as anyone whose Twitter feed has drowned beneath an avalanche of mystery-user “egg” avatars can tell you.
It’s also unclear what they mean by so many Trump fans being “ineligible to vote.” Does that mean they’re phony user accounts with no actual human behind them? Young people who aren’t old enough to vote yet? Illegal aliens? People who simply have not registered to vote yet? If the last, don’t we want to convince them to register and stick with the Republican Party by reaching out to them, rather than declaring them boobs with an unhealthy reality-TV addiction because they support Donald Trump? I can say from considerable anecdotal experience that some non-political, indifferent voters are pretty excited by him, even some who lean to the Left, and I suspect it’s because his “winner” attitude is infectious after eight dreary years of failure, incompetence, economic stagnation, scandal, and malaise under a President who keeps telling us we have no right to ask for anything better than his New Normal.
So, how do candidates competing with Trump get some of that “winner” mojo and attract his supporters? One good way would be to poach his issues, and he’s actually made that very easy to do, at least based on his first debate and earned-media performances. I suspect he won’t like this metaphor, but Donald Trump leaves a lot of political loose change lying on the table. He starts interesting conversations, but he doesn’t finish them.
Take the point he most obviously and energetically has followed up on – his declaration of war against political correctness. He’s right about that, and he dropped some memorable lines at the first debate about how suffocating hypersensitive speech controls are something we just don’t have time for, if we want to make America great again.
His follow-up, while headline-grabbing, has largely centered on making a rude comment about Fox News host Megyn Kelly, and then denying he made it. That’s not how a successful war on P.C. will be fought. It misses the point of how all these academic blather about “trigger words” and “micro-transgressions,” the ugly culture of censorship and thought control pushed by the Left, and their habit of concealing the utter failure of liberal ideology by getting their unfortunate clients riled up over mere symbols is paralyzing us.
How about the struggle against cronyism and the political parasite class that’s been robbing working Americans blind?
Trump got off to a great start on this point during the debate, through the rather unconventional means of presenting his own purchase of political favors as the way business is done in America today. He hasn’t taken it any further. There’s plenty of room for other candidates to explain why an economy in which political influence is the most valuable resource is doomed, or why it contributes so strongly to the very “income inequality” that supporters of the mega-State claim to despise… while trying very hard not to dwell on why it’s gotten so much worse under the worst left-winger to hold the office in our lifetimes.
Trump’s signature issue in this campaign has been illegal immigration. Has he tried explaining precisely why it’s bad, how it’s an offense against the rule of law, or what it’s doing to both our economy and society? Has he offered a plausible strategy for solving the problem? (Note: the solution will not involve forcing Mexico to build a fence.) Plenty of room there for other candidates to move in with a comprehensive and consistent platform.
There have been some examples of other candidates moving into Trump’s turf, either deliberately or because there is coincidental overlap between his campaign and their own signature positions. While we wait for Trump to pin down exactly what he supports in a tax-reform package, for example, Dr. Ben Carson made his bones with a speech in which he presented the moral and practical case for junking our absurd tax code and implementing a flat tax, and he repeated that case during the first Republican debate. Mike Huckabee made a pitch for the Fair Tax.
Trump’s big issue in the last campaign was fighting back against China’s trade and monetary policies. Carly Fiorina has lately been hitting China hard on trade, hacking, and the immorality of China’s authoritarian regime, which is a much-needed bucket of cold water in the face of influential American leftists who dream of installing just such a regime here, to create a dictatorial central government that can Get Things Done.
My purpose here is neither to praise Trump, nor to bury him. I would have no part of rushing him off the stage. Perhaps he will turn out to be the best champion for every issue he has raised. I just think there’s a great deal of room for the other candidates to work on those issues and pick up what Trump has been leaving on the table. I would rather see them do so than have them sitting around waiting for Trump to implode… or, worse, waiting for either conservative or mainstream media to hook him off the stage.
We’ve got a great Republican field this year, while Democrats scramble to find some plausible alternative to the lousy candidate they were told to accept as their inevitable frontrunner, before the FBI grew more interested in her than voters are. Don’t waste your time telling me why Trump is awful, ladies and gentlemen of the GOP. Tell me why you’re better.