It’s been 31 years since the Republican Party had a real, honest-to-God candidate running for president. Someone with charisma and a sense of humor, a natural communicator whose populist message resonates and transcends party lines, gender and age. And, God forbid, someone who actually knows what he stands for, and isn’t afraid to say it.
Better late than never.
Thank you, Donald Trump.
With all those attributes packaged into one person, versus many candidates possessing only one or two, you’d think the Republican hierarchy would be thankful for Trump’s candidacy. But rather than embracing it, too many are criticizing, even demonizing, it.
Donald Trump is the best thing for the Republican Party, but the GOP leadership is too dumb to see it.
The GOP field is crowded, ranging from libertarians to Big Government Republicans. Given that the party has been shut out of the White House for eight years, and the odds (electorally) are not exactly in their favor in 2016, the exchange of bold ideas in a drawn-out primary is exactly what is needed. Yet, that’s precisely what the GOP hierarchy abhors.
After the 2012 debacle, they wanted a neat, quickly wrapped-up primary that they could better control, where their "anointed" one could take the nomination with as little intra-party battling as possible. So new rules were adopted by the Republican National Committee, designed to tip the process, even more than it already was, in the Establishment’s favor.
Now, they naively think that will smooth the way for Jeb Bush, who embodies business as usual.
They are wrong.
How hard is it to see that orchestrating coronations over elections, strong-arming nominations for those with big wallets and whose "turn it is," doesn’t work?
How have they fared since Reagan and his 49-state near-sweep in 1984? Bob Dole and John McCain were pathetic. George Bush I was elected only because of A.) Reagan’s legacy, and B.) the Democrats put up an even weaker candidate (Michael Dukakis). George W. Bush lost the popular vote, and was the unmitigated disaster that led to Barack Obama. And Mitt Romney, despite the imbeciles who blame his loss on the "liberal media" and Chris Christie’s praise for President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, may have been worst of all.
Given the president’s dismal performance the last eight years, this election is eminently winnable for Republicans. But with the party’s new rules, and small states still playing God, honest debate takes a back seat, and party bosses largely retain their ability to choose whom they like, will of the people be damned.
The lesson is to embrace primaries. Contrary to conventional "wisdom," protracted primary battles are good for, not detrimental to, the eventual nominee. They make candidates measurably sharper, and ready them for the bruising general election.
Bottom line: When you run boring, business-as-usual hacks, you lose. McCain, Dole and Romney personified that, as did Al Gore and John Kerry. And the lesser of two evils wins. Just look at 2012. Despite a dismal economy, runaway spending, real unemployment over 15 percent, a world on fire and a pervasive pessimism, Obama routed Romney. That election should have been a home run for the Republicans. Instead, they struck out before coming to bat. But even more inexcusable is that the exact same scenario is, by design, playing out right now.
At least it was, until The Donald showed up.
When Trump first announced, he generated huge headlines, more because of the novelty of who he was, rather than his vision for America. His candidacy made for great late-night TV jokes, sassy editorials, and snickers among the "elite," who looked at Trump as an egomaniac who would fade quickly after his latest "publicity stunt" went up in flames.
They were right about one thing. There were flames — his candidacy caught fire. All of a sudden, despite a number of gaffes, "Trumpmania" started overtaking America. He is generating the largest crowds of any candidate, exhibiting great poise on talk shows, and is showing a depth of real-world knowledge that surpasses that of "seasoned" politicians.
It was a level of success that probably even surprised Trump himself, and with it, a different Donald Trump has emerged. Each day, the bragging billionaire with the flair for the dramatic — honed by hosting an incredibly successful reality TV show — is slowly morphing into a serious candidate, one who has catapulted from joke to contender. But why?
Is it because he can’t be bought? Partly. And even though the political graveyard is littered with wealthy candidates (Ross Perot, Mitt Romney), people have the sense that Trump is different. Perot came across as a flake, and Romney was perhaps the most out-of-touch candidate in memory. Neither one could pass the "could you have a beer with this guy?" test. Trump does, with flying colors, as he genuinely seems to have his hand on the pulse of the people.
Is it because Americans realize that government is failing at virtually every level, and that electing career politicians only makes matters worse? And that it is finally time to run the federal government like a business, instilling accountability and tightening the belt, just as families and businesses do? And that Trump’s business acumen could right the ship? Partly.
But the big reason Trump has ignited a firestorm is because finally someone has the guts to call things as they are, political correctness be damned. He doesn’t worry about "offending" people’s hypersensitivities, and naturally gravitates to taking on the "white elephants" in the room that virtually every other candidate avoids. He isn’t driven by pollsters, and he doesn’t need focus groups to advise him on tie color, hairstyle, or the Middle East. And while his brash style will continue to earn him scorn from the pundits and the "I’m-offended-by-everything" crowd, his style of talking to people (not above or down to them) has generated significant support. Trump understands that you can’t be all things to all people, and that by being himself, he will win over hearts and minds.
Granted, he made some mistakes (hit John McCain on his policies, not war record, and talk about how to solve the immigration issue with an iron will and compassion, rather than being perceived as anti-immigrant), but people will forgive him so long as they believe he is speaking from the heart and maintaining the courage of his convictions.
The more Trump calls out his opponents — Democrat and Republican — without reverting to a canned script of non-answers, the more he will shake up the entire presidential field. And what a breath of fresh air that would be.
Donald Trump doesn’t "need" the hellacious road that accompanies a run for president. The fact that he chose to place himself, his family and his entire life under the microscope on the world’s biggest stage, is proof enough that his candidacy isn’t a stunt.
Like him or not, America, and the Republican Party in particular, could do a whole lot worse that someone who tells the truth and articulates a "City on a Hill"-type vision for the nation. By his nature, Trump is a gambling man. And while maybe The Donald won’t be the last guy standing, his candidacy is turning out to be the best Trump card the Republican Party has had in a long time.
Oh, and Hillary: Be careful what you wish for. You just may get it.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]