Donald Trump has the political world abuzz about his surprising traction among conservative activists. A survey released Friday by Public Policy Polling has the real-estate tycoon way ahead of the pack of potential Republican presidential primary candidates. With 26 percent, Mr. Trump is a substantial 9 points above the nearest competitor. If he wasn’t serious about running for the Oval Office a couple months ago, these numbers might convince him to throw his hat into the ring for real. Next year’s GOP nomination is anyone’s for the taking.
The Donald’s popularity isn’t an accident. Americans dissatisfied with lackluster leadership during a long economic crisis are responding to a man who talks straight and says what needs to be said. Such candor isn’t the virtue of a career politician whose every word is tightly scripted based on persistent polling. Refreshingly, Mr. Trump just hangs it all out there. For example, he’s gotten immense support for criticizing President Obama for his mysteriously missing birth certificate, an issue most Americans are talking about but which is considered taboo by the liberal establishment. He’s taken similarly bold stands to the right on taxes, pro-life issues, gun rights, trade, China bashing and even ripping Jimmy Carter, the biggest loser to ever inhabit the White House.
The scary part of Mr. Trump’s fast rise is what it says about the rest of the Republican field. It’s an open secret that most conservatives aren’t excited about their likely primary choices, and the talk of the town in the nation’s capital is what Mr. Obama’s second term will look like. When Republicans are whispering amongst themselves, the most common historical anecdote that pops up as foreshadowing for the 2012 election is 1996, when an unpopular President Clinton was vulnerable but the elephants nominated a standard bearer no one ever thought would win. Sen. Bob Dole might have been a respected public servant but was never a serious presidential contender. A defeatist sense of deja vu already pervades much of the Grand Old Party. That’s a worrying sign with the election still a year and a half away.
The big question about the Donald’s candidacy is whether he’s seriously seeking public office or is merely using all this exposure to promote the Trump brand and have some fun along the way. The other concern surrounds his colorful personal life, marked by three wives and who knows what else. It’s not definite Americans care about that as much as they used to given a culture in which “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” has been embraced as a new national anthem. Either way, the businessman’s brash personality and outspokenness are showing up his bland, predictable erstwhile opponents. That’s why Mr. Trump is currently on top.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times.