The Republican establishment is playing a dangerous game going after Donald Trump. This includes Fox News, which is quite centrist, but is said to be sympathetic to the Republican establishment. This establishment wants a party nominee who will go along to get along, reach across the aisle, build consensus, and keep the Chamber of Commerce happy. This is a proven model for electoral success. Just ask former Presidents Dole, McCain, and Romney.
Donald Trump is a disruptive force within the Republican party, much like Uber is in the livery business or Airbnb is in the lodging industry. Love or hate Trump, he is a novel candidate who says what he means, means what he says, and isn’t afraid to hit back when attacked. Rather than apologizing, Trump doubles down.
Megyn Kelly, Fox News debate moderator, found a comment Trump made on Season Six of Celebrity Apprentice commenting on how contestant Brande Roderick “got down on her knees,” not in a sexual manner, but begging to not be fired from the show.
Post debate, Trump, speaking to CNN’s Don Lemon, said, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.” A day after the debates, this lead to another round of outrage, based on the assumption that Trump was referring to menstruation. Instead Trump clarified that he meant ‘nose’ and added, “Only a deviant would think anything else.”
Red State’s Erick Erickson promptly disinvited Trump from speaking at his activist conference this weekend over these comments and instead invited Megyn Kelly to the gathering. Predictably Donald Trump hit back, noting some of Erickson’s previous remarks including referring to Supreme Court Justice David Souter as “a goat-f***ing child molester” and Michele Obama as a “Marxist harpy wife.” Game on.
The point is not which comments were more outrageous. Instead it’s that the Republican establishment is playing a dangerous game constantly attacking Trump. He isn’t going away anytime soon. Three weeks ago, after his McCain war hero comments, Trump was written off by the media and political establishment. As I wrote at the time, the conventional wisdom about his imminent demise was wrong. And likely just as wrong today.
Former Apprentice star Omarosa cautions not writing off the Trump candidacy. “He’s not going anywhere,” she predicted, despite the fact that she is “a diehard Democrat” and wouldn’t vote for Trump anyway.
The game is dangerous not because the media talking heads are upset with Trump, but that voters are mad at the media and political establishment. More specifically, the Republican base is fed up with the current Republican party. Let’s look at the numbers.
Last weeks debate drew 24 million viewers. Compare that to the first GOP primary debate four years ago with 3.2 million viewers, and the most watched primary debate in 2012 reaching 7.6 million. Even the second tier “undercard” debate Thursday evening drew 6.1 million viewers. Sure more people tuned in to the second debate because it was later in the evening, whereas the first debate occurred mid afternoon in much of the country. But still, the second debate drew 18 million more viewers.
I can’t prove this, but I believe it’s safe to say at least half of those additional viewers of the “main event” debate tuned in for one reason. The Donald. If Trump was hosting his reality show for another season and not running for president, how exciting would a debate be between Walker, Bush, Paul, and the others? Maybe 10-12 million viewers? If that.
What about the other half, the other 12 million viewers? If most tuned in because of Trump, assume most are Trump supporters. Voters sick and tired of the status quo, Republican promises to do and be different if given control of the House and Senate. Voters yearning for a leader not cowed by political correctness, willing to say what needs to be said, regardless of who it might offend.
Herein lies the problem. The perception that the “Washington cartel,” as Ted Cruz describes it, will be picking our candidates, not we the people. The conventional wisdom is that the presidential election will be between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. And the Washington cartel would welcome that. “If it turns out to be Jeb versus Hillary we would love that and either outcome would be fine,” according to one Wall St lawyer. Why not? They both want to grow government, keep our borders open, nationalize education through Common Core, tweak but keep Obamacare in place. They could even run on the same ticket.
Along comes Donald Trump, disrupting the visions of Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce, tapping into a nerve of discontent among the people. A candidate voters in flyover country are excited about, hence the debate viewership numbers. And the Washington cartel has its sharp knives out eager to deliver the death blow to his candidacy. Even Fox News, thought to be the last bastion of conservative thought in a thoroughly liberal media, is on the attack against Trump.
This leaves the average conservative voter wondering, to use Hillary’s words, “What difference does it make?” If this is all a stage show, generating big ratings and publicity for Fox News, with a foregone conclusion, then why participate? Whether contributing money to candidates predestined to lose, or contributing to the Republican party through the RNC or similar organizations, why bother? Will voting even matter? Whether in the primaries or the general election. President Clinton or President Bush. Déjà vu all over again. The steady decline of the country will continue, and it won’t matter if the speed is 55 versus 60 miles per hour, the result is the same.
The attacks against Trump are attacks against an enthused electorate, eager for a different approach, a different type of leader. A rebellion of sorts. Squash the rebellion and the spirits of the Republican electorate, and they tune out. Better to let the process play out. The odds are against Trump winning the nomination, but his voice and ideas are important to the process, and through him, the voices of many unhappy Republican voters. Who when dissed by the establishment will begin ignoring the calls for money and support, and ultimately for turnout in November 2016.
The Republican establishment has itself to blame for Donald Trump. Nature abhors a vacuum. Trump is filling it. Squash Trump and along with it the enthusiasm of an electorate the Republicans desperately need. A dangerous game indeed.
Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based physician and writer. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter.