Thursday, March 24, 2016
The first Republican Presidential debate since Super Tuesday was no disappointment for those looking for entertainment and little substance. It followed Mitt Romney’s denouncement* of the frontrunner, Donald J. Trump, and Marco Rubio’s reference to the size of Donald Trump’s hands. It’s no great surprise that the debate itself consisted mostly of personal attacks.
Where Did The Bad Feeling Come From?
Character attacks are not new to politics, and such attacks will continue for as long as there are elections. Yet there was a period following the 1970s where Presidential candidates did try to appear civil. I don’t remember any election involving Ford, Carter, Reagan, or George H.W. Bush where the rancor was spilling across the media. However, we began seeing touches of rancor directed at President Clinton after accusations of his marital infidelities became very public around 1998 prompting impeachment actions to move forward. Clinton survived this ordeal.
The civility really came to an end on December 12, 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore. Since that time, mostly on the internet, Facebook and Twitter, there has been a constant hurling of insults – first from the left concerning George W. Bush and then from the right regarding President Barack Obama. That each President managed to be reelected didn’t seem to quiet down anyone. Ever since 2000, as soon as one presidential election has concluded we are already discussing who we will vote for in the next one.
It all leads to this: every four years we hear of a new savior running for office who will save our country and make everything better. And though disillusionment is inevitable, the disappointment with one candidate only makes us all the more hopeful for the next.
Following the Iraqi conflict and the real estate market collapse in 2007, Barak Obama made a wide variety of promises on how he would remedy the situation. Unsurprisingly, Obama delivered on some promises and not on others. Yet the failure of Obama to deliver on certain promises never made the hopeful believe such measures were out of reach. Instead, the hopeful turned their support to Bernie Sanders who promises even more – to create a single-payer plan, promote free college education for everyone, etc.
The Republican hopeful are no more realistic. As the Republican establishment has not put a stop to illegal immigration, angry voters are now turning to Donald Trump who promises to build a wall across our borders.
We should know by now that such promises will never happen, but I suppose enthusiasm to be maintained needs to be blind. It is also the result of a particular type of conceit. This is the conceit among supporters and political pundits that they know without reservation what can be accomplished, and which candidate will best meet the needs of everyone. Look what happened in the South Carolina Democratic Primary. During the course of the primary, many pundits somehow thought they could speak for black voters by telling them that Bernie Sanders was a better for their interests than Hillary Clinton. The strategy didn’t work. Black voters overwhelmingly snubbed these pundits by supporting Ms. Clinton.
Since presidential elections first began, candidates have used simple and mostly meaningless campaign slogans. Examples include: “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” “Return to normalcy,” “A chicken in every pot,” “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people,” and “We like Ike.” Notoriously, Woodrow Wilson ran in 1916 with the slogan, “He kept us out of war” – this right before U.S. troops went to Europe during World War I. And right before the reelection of Nixon to the Presidency in 1972, his Secretary of State pronounced, “We believe that peace is at hand.” Enlisted troops continued to fight in Vietnam for another three years. This election will be no different. It won’t be clear why a large number of voters voted the way they did, but somehow one candidate or another will reach them by slogans calling for political revolution or promises to make America great again.
Why Has Trump Been Successful?
While mostly unfriendly to him, the media has done a wonderful job of keeping Trump in the spotlight. Such publicity not only appears to be leading to his nomination, it also seems to ensure he could be a formidable opponent in the 2016 election. Like most nominees for either major party, he will likely receive at least 40 percent of the vote. And judging by how successful he has been in the primaries, he has an outside chance of winning.
The media and Trump opponents have made a terrible mistake contributing to Trump’s success. Not only have they gone after Trump, they have also gone all out in insulting his supporters. And while many admit they do not know any of Trump’s supporters, these detractors continue to insist his supporters are mostly ignorant and racist. This will change nobody’s minds.
It is true that the baggage of Trump is there for everyone to see. Trump should have known without prompting that David Duke was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. And while not solely responsible for the rioting at his rallies, Trump should have taken some accountability for the violence occurring there. Trump also is not telling us how he will live up to his promises. Like Sanders (but seemingly more effectively), Trump supplies easy answers for difficult issues by mostly saying what his supporters seem to want to hear. And as I write this, with Trump’s unfavorable ratings with women too low for him to realistically expect to win against Hillary Clinton unless something changes, Trump insults Ted Cruz’s wife.
Yet while the average Trump supporter may never have received a college education, this is far different from being ignorant. Trump supporters consist of a large number of blue-collared workers who have worked hard to support their families. Among them, there will be a large portion who have run their own businesses successfully and who did not have well-to-do parents to help them get started. Whether the anger of some of Trump’s supporters is justifiable, these individuals still are facing a set of issues that many other voters are not facing.
To his supporters, Trump’s an outsider, has business experience (though perhaps not real world business experience), and has demonstrated in three quarters of the primaries and caucuses his ability to win. And it appears Trump supporters understandably do not feel that candidates like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton are anything to boast about.
What Happens Next?
Just a few days ago we had a terrorist attack on Brussels which likely is tied to the one in Paris. The stakes are very high and we cannot afford to allow ISIS to win.
William Buckley once stated: “I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.” While I reluctantly agree, I’d also rather entrust the government of the United States to these same 400 people than the editorial staff for the National Review or any other news outlet.
I hope that voters take the time to educate themselves on who is best qualified for the office and don’t make up their minds too quickly. Having done that, I also hope that these voters remain humble in the knowledge that whoever they pick may still end up being a disastrous choice.
* As an aside, the same week Romney made this speech he also filed his name for consideration of the Presidency of the United States. In other words, his speech may seem a bit self-serving.
March 24, 2016