With Labor Day fast approaching, Republican voters’ “summer fling” with Donald Trump looks likely to carry over into the Fall. While Washington’s professional pundit class has long been predicted the imminent implosion of the Trump campaign, the real estate developer has shown he operates by a different set of rules.
However the Trump phenomenon ends, he has already reshaped the field of candidates and the issue debate.
The obvious story of the “Trump Summer” is his continued dominance of the GOP primary race. It would be an understatement to say that Trump has survived a media onslaught against him. Even Fox News aimed its most potent journalists at him during the first GOP debate and widely missed their target.
To paraphrase an old quip, Trump won a fight with someone who buys ink by the tanker-truck.
It would be a mistake to dismiss Trump’s outright ownership of the GOP primary as simply a function of his out-sized personality. That personality has certainly helped him stare down the nags in the media, but even the most audacious performance art, which is the sine qua non of the Trump campaign, can’t exist in a vacuum. It must arise out of something.
Trump, in his own way and whether intentional or not, has seized on a growing fault line in American politics. The disconnect between the public and America’s professional political class is a continent-wide chasm. At a very basic level, Trump is that kid in the fairy tale pointing out that the rulers have no clothes.
It is ridiculous, and pointless, to point out the myriad ways Trump offends one’s senses. That he may be a flawed vessel is an observation that long ago slipped into the world of cliche. While many in the 202 or 212 area code are quick to publicly ridicule Trump as some kind of clown, one wonders how it is that this “clown” totally controls the GOP primary.
What does it say about the “serious” people in the political class that Trump effectively still holds the deed on the Republican house? The campaign of every Republican running for President has been impacted by the Trump candidacy and the smart ones are starting to adapt.
Last week, on the Sean Hannity radio show, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, for the first time in this campaign, leveled stinging criticism on the Republican leadership in Washington. Sources close to the Walker campaign have told Breitbart News that Walker understands that GOP voters are upset with their party’s leadership in Congress and will continue this critique. In a challenge to Congressional leaders, Walker unveiled his detailed plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare on Tuesday.
Conversely, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry bet his early campaign on strong criticism of Donald Trump. He rode that criticism out of the top tier of candidates into the “undercard” debate event at the beginning of the month. He has stopped paying his campaign staff. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has also been on the losing end of a clash with Trump.
The “Trump factor” is having even more of a dramatic impact on the race. The top three candidates in the latest national poll are Trump, Carson and Cruz. Two of these candidates have never before held public office and Cruz is a constant, and public, thorn in the side of the Republican establishment. Businesswoman Carly Fiorina, who also has never held elected office, has surged in the polls lately.
All other candidates, including expected frontrunner Jeb Bush, are languishing in the polls. Trump’s campaign, in other words, is benefiting other outsiders in the race beyond himself. Whatever its flaws, his blunt rhetoric has provided clear evidence of how empty and vacuous most political speech is in today’s campaign world.
If Trump’s candidacy were solely based on his own personality, you wouldn’t expect to see the gravitational pull its exerting on other candidates.
The real Trump impact is only now being felt, though. With the release of his detailed plan to tackle illegal immigration, Trump is performing the very real service of sparking a debate on the issue. One doesn’t have to accept his policy prescriptions to welcome the fact that politicians are having to confront the issue in a real way, beyond the focus-tested rhetoric.
How the other candidates respond to his plan will have a far larger impact on the race than anything that happened over the summer months. On Tuesday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose work on the immigration issue is based solely in rhetoric, admitted that he hadn’t read Trump’s proposal, but confidently said that it had no chance to pass Congress.
An intrepid reporter might ask Sen. Rubio to show his math on that conclusion. Exactly which part of a proposal he hadn’t read had no chance of passing?
Trump’s plan puts down an anchor on the issue. Candidates will be forced to line up on one side or the other of the various items in Trump’s proposal. For years, the political class has tried to massage the immigration issue every way imaginable. Trump, though, is now forcing them to endorse or oppose concrete items.
That alone is worth the price of admission to the Trump show.