Did you ever see those bumper stickers that asked, “What if the hokey-pokey is what it’s all about?”
I’m not a big Donald Trump fan, but what is really behind the escalating phenomena of Trump-mania? As nearly every candidate and pundit has expressed to date, Mr. Trump has indeed “tapped into an anger.” But so have several other candidates. Although Mr. Trump’s rise in popularity is the inevitable response to two devastating terms of President Obama, I don’t think anyone has quite tapped into what it’s all about.
In my opinion, the Republican Party is getting what it deserves in the form of a swift kick in the fanny for years abusing the base. And the face on those just desserts just so happens to be The Donald’s. (By base, I include grassroots conservatives, local GOP committee members who conduct get out the vote campaigns and do the scut work of elections, Tea Party conservatives, some libertarians, disgruntled Republicans who have either become independents or think about it every day, and social conservatives.)
The party elite might be miffed that Mr. Trump has sucked the air from other more qualified candidates, has dumbed down the campaign, and is probably a flash in the pan diverting resources from those more likely to endure, but it is a self-inflicted wound that could have been avoided. As diverse as the base is, it came together to hand successive victories to the GOP in the last four election cycles, only to be flipped the bird. And now those chickens have come home to roost, only they are conservative and taste like Mr. Trump.
The GOP power elite made too many promises that they failed to keep and repeatedly neglected to fight the fight in the halls of Congress. They held out the carrot that they would act on conservative principles and represent their constituents once elected, only to bring out the stick of “We don’t have enough votes for this piece of legislation” or “Why bother since Obama will veto it anyway” or “We cannot do something so controversial” or “The Democrat-Media Complex will make us look bad if we do that.” They could not sustain loyalty and hard-earned donations, votes, and volunteerism on a steady diet of false hopes. Eventually, even the dumbest horse will catch on that the carrot was just a chimera.
Lumping everyone in the base with former Senate candidate Todd Akin or the ever-present former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin paints the base with too narrow a brush. Marginalizing bushy-tailed representatives and senators who went to Washington for altruistic reasons and punishing them when they followed through on campaign promises is not a recipe for a loyal base. After four elections, that ship (of party loyalty) has finally sailed.
What’s ironic is that GOP leadership is looking for votes by altering course on long-held policies and principles. Meanwhile, they squandered a ripe opportunity for votes with the Tea Party movement—a movement of Republicans, disgruntled Republicans, former Republicans, disgruntled Democrats, independents, and a decent helping of libertarians. With a dash of tender loving care, a pinch of appreciation, and a huge serving of follow-through, they could have preserved millions of votes from GOP party members, and cultivated millions more by winning back the disgruntled, reeling in the independents, and appealing to Democrats who were disgusted with Mr. Obama and the Democratic party. These are the folks in the Tea Party. These are the voters who got tired of being ignored. And these are the Republicans, Democrats and independents currently rooting for Mr. Trump.
With each election, the elites let hard-working local party operatives believe it would be different this time, assured them that they had grown a spine and would fight for conservative principles, and swore they would save an America that was dying at the hands of Mr. Obama. But the base, eager independents, and willing Democrats grew weary watching “trusted” party leadership smack down those who tried, ridicule the hoi polloi, and cozy up to Mr. Obama. That’s not what they voted for.
The people who support Donald Trump are a mish-mash of hard-core Republicans, hard-core Tea Partiers, fierce independents and recovering Obama supporters. They aren’t supporting Mr. Trump because he is so wonderful or speaks bluntly. It isn’t because he is the only one tapping into their anger (because he is not). After you get body-slammed in the political ring by the trophy-wielding shtarkers in the party, you bring in your own muscle. Donald Trump is the People’s shtarker—their way of body slamming an arrogant—but inept—GOP leadership that has lost its way.
He is the antidote to the same old, same old. He doesn’t have answers, he doesn’t have teams assembled advising him on foreign policy and immigration—and it shows. But he doesn’t care and neither do his supporters.
He is the cult-of-personality response to Mr. Obama’s cult-of-personality victories in 2008 and 2012, only instead of being a slick talker with a suave countenance masking inexperience and ignorance while hiding a progressive agenda, he is a crass talker with a brusque countenance, bloviating about his experience and intellect while hiding his agenda of riding high on a whim. As pretentious and false as Mr. Obama’s public persona and his abilities were, Mr. Trump is brutally honest.
In any other election year, most would cringe at this. But right now he is the best way of sticking it to the Republican man. And, in this girl’s opinion, that’s what it’s all about.
Sally Zelikovsky is a former attorney who founded the San Francisco Tea Party and the Bay Area Patriots in 2009, and was active in Republican and conservative politics in California.