He currently holds unprecedented leads in national polls, including across-the-board edges in all of the early primary/caucus states. His likability numbers with Republican primary voters are on the upswing. He’s a billionaire who can spare no expense in self-funding, which means he’s already amassed the largest war chest anyone will have in this campaign.
Nevertheless, most of the intelligentsia still doesn’t believe Donald Trump has much of chance to be the 2016 GOP nominee.
In fact, many of them think the embarrassing descent into self-parody that has become the Jeb Bush candidacy still remains viable because he’s got all that Super PAC money. Well, if Jeb is still viable in the face of imploding numbers because of Super PAC money he can’t legally coordinate and direct, then explain how the guy who’s much more popular and has much more of his own money isn’t?
Quite frankly, that doesn’t make any sense and smart people should know better.
Except a lot of smart people, myself included, are collectively making a similar mistake. We keep trying to apply status quo conventional wisdom to a paradigm-changing election. The unsatisfactory status quo is the unsatisfactory status quo only until it isn’t anymore, and that usually happens after a catalyst suddenly emerges to make years worth of calls for change evolve almost overnight into the new normal.
For example, college football was virtually the same sport for 75 years. Then, all of a sudden, Nebraska-Rutgers became a Big Ten game, Texas-Texas A&M doesn’t even play anymore, and the sport finally has a playoff. All because the catalyst – in this case seemingly endless television revenue — caused the tectonic shift.
Make no mistake, a tectonic shift has also occurred in American politics. And in this case the catalyst is a ballsy billionaire named Trump.
It’s no secret the discontent between grassroots Republicans and Republican Party leadership has been escalating for quite some time. For years, it was thought the differences between the base and the establishment was tactical, as Republicans showed timidity with their power in the George W. Bush years. Then came President Obama’s reckless disregard for Constitutional restraint.
This carried over to the 2012 GOP presidential primary and led to the “flavor of the month” phenomenon that dominated the cycle, as conservatives searched endlessly for the “not Mitt Romney” candidate. One-by-one those alternatives rose and fell once as it was proven they weren’t up to the task.
When Mr. Romney lost the 2012 election — mainly because he failed to energize the party base despite Mr. Obama’s menacing Marxist alternative — that was the first real sign something dramatic was underway. Then fast forward to 2014, when conservatives temporarily buried the hatchet with the GOP to catapult the party to its largest nationwide legislative margins since before the Great Depression.
And what did we get for giving these Republican leaders another shot? The most Pyrrhic victory in the history of our two-party system. Instead of holding Mr. Obama in check, we got the Boehner-McConnell orchestrated failure theater and betrayal of conservatives at every turn. It confirmed once and for all for conservatives that our differences with the GOP aren’t tactical but ideological. To put it plainly, the party wants our votes but it doesn’t share our values.
And now, suddenly, what has been written about and threatened for years is instantly at hand. The Republican Party as we’ve known it has come to an end and Trump 2016 delivered the kill-shot. He successfully called every bluff of the Liberal Media/GOP Establishment cabal and came up aces every time. Each time they pronounced him dead for his crudity, he doubled down instead of apologizing and surrendering. Each time they tried to slam their Overton Window on him he shattered the glass. Each time they sent one of his to the hospital he sent ten of theirs to the morgue.
As a result, the corrupt Liberal Media/GOP Establishment cabal that has been used to convince conservatives we cannot win has been demolished. And it’s not coming back, folks. Just look at how all the conventional candidates in this field, even the strong ones, are struggling to gain any kind of polling, organizational, or fundraising traction. Once people see someone stand up to the bully, they line up to kick him while he’s down.
Now it seems there is no gaffe Trump can commit, or constituency or sacred cow he can skewer, that will stymie his momentum. Quite the contrary actually, because the one constant in this race has been the more Trump acts out the more people rally to him.
He’s becoming bullet-proof. The know-it-alls keep saying he’ll fade, but that is based more on hope and/or sneering condescension than anything else. Prior to running, Mr. Trump had already survived messy divorces and personal scandal. Since running he’s already survived numerous bouts of diarrhea of the mouth and issue flip-flopping that would’ve sunk anyone else. How can this be? Because each ensuing day that Mr. Trump is seen as the one willing to aim his slingshot at the sinister leviathan threatening their way of life, the closer he gets to becoming the most potent force in politics — a symbol.
Symbols are incorruptible once forged in people’s minds. They become something more than a man. They become a force of nature.
Mr. Trump now has the popularity, resources, and environment in his favor. The blitzkrieg of attack ads that took down previous insurgents won’t work on him, because he has the means and free media to respond in kind or with even more ferocity. And voters have already proven they will cheer on every punch he throws, no matter how below the belt it may be. Because, hell, at least he actually throws punches.
All other comparisons to previous frontrunners that petered out in the fall aren’t applicable here, because we’ve never been here before. These are uncharted waters for the Republican Party and American politics as a whole. The discontent has also reached the Democrat Party, with long-presumed front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton mortally wounded and currently hanging by a thread.
Since the 2002 election, the American people have voted for total Republican control of government, split government, total Democrat control of government, and split government again — only to be disappointed by the results each time. They have tried every conventional option and are officially sick and tired of being sick and tired.
At this point, Mr. Trump is the clear favorite to be the nominee. Everyone else would see it, too, if his last name were Bush or Walker. You know, the two men the status quo tried to prematurely anoint as acceptable frontrunners before bothering to consult with the people doing the actual voting. But once we in the smarty pants class preordain an outcome and call it analysis, we usually have a hard time giving up the ghost.
Yet while Mr. Trump is the favorite, he is not inevitable. There is one part of this tale still to be told — and it belongs to the conservative movement. I believe they — or a candidate like Ben Carson who offers much of what people like about Trump minus the rough edges – are the last thing standing between Trump and the nomination. The conservative movement has the ability to challenge Trump head-on by offering the same game change fed-up voters are looking for, but with the conservative principles that make us Republicans in the first place also in tow.
However, to mount such a challenge the conservative movement will finally have to do what it’s been unwilling or incapable of doing for many years—unite behind a grassroots candidate. At this point the only grassroots candidate who has the money, message, and organization capable of such a coalescing is Ted Cruz. And he has those things precisely because the grassroots doesn’t see him as tainted by the status quo they’ve come to loathe as much as it has always loathed them.
Mr. Cruz has put together the framework for a strong campaign, and increasingly the media that long ignored him is beginning to take notice. Now he needs the blessing of the conservative movement from whence he came to further broaden his base, and he probably needs that blessing in the next month or two to give him time to coalesce a fractured voting bloc currently splitting its support among numerous options. The calendar has already reached September, and with limited debates that also limits potential tide-turning moments.
So the ball is now in the conservative movement’s court. It is time for the movement to decide if it’s really okay with Mr. Trump transitioning from its co-belligerent provocateur to its standard-bearer. If it is, so be it, then sit back and let the process play itself out rather than risk being on the wrong side of the tornado’s path.
But if the conservative movement is willing to seize the moment and finally assume the mantle of party leadership it’s never been able to wrestle away from the establishment, the opportunity is there to come now and reason together.
Fed up voters are going to want a third party (Mr. Trump) until we (the conservative movement) finally give them a second party.
(Steve Deace is a nationally-syndicated talk show host and also the author of the new book “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can “like” him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.)
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