When Donald Trump unexpectedly placed second in a recent NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll of Republican primary contenders – a bit behind Mitt Romney and a little ahead of Mike Huckabee – the possibility of a Trump campaign suddenly became a serious topic, instead of just an entertaining sideshow. It’s still entertaining, and for the moment it’s still a sideshow, but a lot of serious people are trying to analyze the nature of Trump’s appeal.
One of the simplest explanations for his strong showing is that people who want him to run understand giving him strong poll numbers is the best way to influence his decision. Polls like this will probably mean more to Trump than the financial support of GOP power brokers.
Many have pointed out flaws with the methodology and sampling of the NBC / WSJ poll, or suggested Trump’s unexpectedly high showing is purely a result of his celebrity. Flawed sampling couldn’t create such high numbers out of thin air, however, and plenty of other celebrities have flirted with presidential runs over the years without accumulating such dramatic support.
Some say the push for Trump is a way for primary voters to express their boredom with the rest of the primary field. That would seem more plausible if any of the other dreamboat non-candidates – Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, or Allen West, for example – had appeared in the top 10. None of them did. I don’t think Donald Trump has suddenly become the avatar of wishful thinking for the entire Republican primary electorate.
Rush Limbaugh touched on an important element of Trump’s appeal when, in reference to The Donald’s epic quest to find the fabled Obama Birth Certificate, he said Trump was “providing a lesson on how to beat Barack Obama… You go after these people. Not just Obama. You go after the Left, you go after the Democratic Party. You don’t get timid, you don’t act defensive, and you don’t act afraid.”
It seems to me that the great desire among Republicans, independents, and a growing portion of the remaining “moderate” Democrat voters, is to find a future that works. They know the one we’re heading toward does not work. The entire system is headed for a devastating crash, and voters have learned that system has powerful methods of defending itself.
If our next President is to have any chance of avoiding that crash, he or she will need enormous courage and determination – to weather attacks from Democrats and their media auxiliaries, yes, but also to keep the Republican caucus in line. The next President will lead an uneasy band of Republicans – some young and infused with Tea Party energy, others who are older establishment types who have made their peace with the system. Behind them will march a moderate and right-leaning electorate that does not quite appreciate the horrors it will face, or how difficult some of the decisions ahead will be.
Against them will be massed a Democrat Party and various captive constituencies that will fight to the end to defend the collapsing system. They don’t care about insolvency, and they have no scruples about using compulsive force to sustain the dying super-State for as long as possible. They don’t care about what’s going to happen in five or ten years.
When people ask themselves who could lead such a vital struggle against such terrible odds, they envision the kind of independence and tough-mindedness they see in Donald Trump. They might change their minds as they learn more about his positions, but for right now, they are impressed by his boldness.
As Limbaugh pointed out, even those who aren’t terribly interested in the birth-certificate stuff can appreciate Trump’s expression of disdain for a President who squandered every ounce of public trust long ago… and a media that did the same, in order to get him elected. You don’t have to believe there’s anything explosive written on the birth certificate to see it as part of Obama’s long history of special treatment and out-of-touch arrogance, which came to a head with the President telling those concerned about rising gas prices to trade in their SUVs for expensive new hybrid minivans.
Meteoric political campaigns tend to break apart upon contact with the atmosphere of serious debate. A lot of Trump’s positions are rather superficial, and some of them are dramatically at odds with what he was saying a couple of years ago. Contrary to his spirited bluster about superb management skills and peerless business acumen, his commercial history is not exactly a string of unbroken successes. He could jump out of a grueling campaign as easily as he jumped in, which will disturb anyone old enough to remember the previous straight-talking maverick billionaire’s campaign.
On the other hand, Trump has real skill and energy at speaking before a crowd, and he enjoys it. That counts for a lot. People respond positively to someone who likes talking to them. Not every technically skilled orator gives off that vibe.
Many Americans are eager to hear about a future that works, from someone who knows how to make a fortune. They’ve had enough of watching a future designed by academics and ideologues disintgrate before their eyes. They just watched a budget debate the drove home the importance of sticking to principles, and refusing to be intimidated. Most of all, at this moment, they really enjoy watching Barack Obama, a man who never had a “real” job in his life, getting called on the carpet by a no-nonsense CEO who knows how to give memorable performance reviews.