Republican primary voters have spoken in states across the country and have now, just about, given the world their presumptive 2016 nominee for president. This has been forecasted accurately by polls for months, but only confirmed when actual votes began being cast in Iowa on February 1, just one short month ago.
Donald Trump, who prior to four weeks ago had never been on a ballot, never had a vote cast for him, never even held appointive office, has proven that his popularity in opinion polls and enthusiasm at rallies translates into real support in Republican polling stations. It’s quite remarkable, and if it were predictable six months ago, not so just eight months ago. With large victories on Super Tuesday, and more expected in the next two weeks, his nomination is all but assured.
For many Republicans, this has been a real adjustment, and for others downright shock. Intellectuals in particular, joined by many perennial GOP handlers and party elite, have cringed at Trump’s aggressive style, his willingness to hurl invectives at people who cross him, and his lack of policy specifics. Others have decried his late conversion to Republicanism and fear an imposter.
The candidates trailing him have greeted reality with late, last-minute campaign flailing that has become increasingly ugly and tacky. Trump has responded as expected, forcefully and then some, with derision. The attacks play to his strength at hitting back. Politics, as they say, ain’t bean bag.
Though it is fair to raise anxieties about Mr. Trump, and appropriate anytime the American people vet a presidential candidate, the doubts about his candidacy have not resonated with the people. Mostly, the attacks come late, they come weak, and more importantly they appear to be accompanied with little appreciation for what is happening out there, record numbers being drawn into the Republican Party by one man, producing a level of electoral participation probably not seen in GOP history. If Republicans want to expand as a governing majority, the Trump recipe apparently has the essential ingredients of enthusiasm, inclusiveness and growth.
Still, as the nomination is being won, many of the so-called establishment folks are freaking out, and lashing out, predicting cataclysmic losses for Republicans on election day with Trump as nominee, while advisors from failed campaigns are offering sour grapes remarks about people who endorse Trump. Though they may not have accepted it today, it suspends reason to think Trump will implode in the next two, three or four weeks. Trump will get the necessary delegates for the nomination; the real cataclysm will be for the Democrats when they debate him in the fall.
In defining the victory, we have heard the American people are angry and disgusted with incumbent politicians. That is true, but it’s not the whole story. People are clearly yearning for a tell-it-like-it-is leader. They have angst, but it alone does not account for Trump’s success. His supporters are also excited and motivated. They are attracted to his confidence and sense of optimism about the future, his can-do/will-do attitude, and his humor, all a secret sauce for political victory. Trump makes people believe in the primacy of American leadership “again,” though he would be wise to drop the reference to the past. Regarding the top three issues on the minds of those who have voted — defeating terrorism, economy/jobs, and government spending — Americans have rallied to Trump.
Donald Trump has been through the process and emerged the winner. The Republican primary voters and the American people know him well enough now. They know he is not perfect. No one is. They also know he is a big boy and able to defend himself against whatever Democrats throw at him as a private businessman, and look forward to Democrats being on the receiving end as they try to defend their governing record against someone who is not afraid to go on offense.
As this comes to conclusion, the time has come now for Republicans to coalesce behind Trump, put differences aside, and do everything to help him be the best candidate for the Party and the country in November. Trump as nominee will be the strongest possible result for Republicans. He presents a unique opportunity, believe it or not, to make the 2016 election truly transformative, bringing Republicans the widest possible electorate that includes Trump Independents and Democrats, not seen since the era of Reagan Democrats.
Despite guidance that the policy apprentice will surely need going forward, there is no reason to believe he will not take good, well-reasoned advice, or negotiate his positions as the real estate dealmaker might prefer. As an alternative to the Democrats, a Trump presidency would still bring a dramatic alteration to the path taken by either one in the race, who would continue the policies of the past eight years that has lead to a decline of American leadership abroad, increased vulnerability of free societies, a fifty-year low in race relations at home, and anemic economic growth that is taking its toll on families.
No matter what current GOP adversaries feel about Trump, none of them can deny there is something going on out there, and the will of the people needs to be respected. Those who had opportunities but failed to attack Trump earlier because it was advantageous to keep their heads down should not wake up today and try to be a spoiler. That time has passed. Instead, Republicans should look forward to a very winnable election for Republicans, if they can attract Independents and Democrats looking for a new home, and ways to make a Trump candidacy better.
Unexpectedly, and not without controversy, Donald Trump has proven to be one of the most resilient, talented politicians of a generation. He may need some work still, but Republicans will be fortunate to have his skills opposing the Democrats and securing a White House victory in November.
Michael J. Marshall is president of Marshall Consulting, LLC and a former advisor to Senator Bob Dole, 1996 Republican nominee for president.