Donald Trump is rocking the Republican race for president. He’s running strong in the polls, dominating media coverage, and holding rallies that are attracting cheering crowds of thousands of people.
What’s going on? How did the flashy superstar businessman of the 1980s turned reality show celebrity — and former registered Democrat and donor who’s expressed support for single-payer health care and abortion — become one of the leading contenders in the Republican presidential race?
There are a few explanations, which have more to do with the conservative base than with Mr. Trump. No one knows if Mr. Trump will be able to maintain his momentum. But love him or hate him, agree with him or not, he is performing a number of critically important services from which the other candidates can learn, if they are smart enough to follow his lead (if not his brash style.)
First and most importantly, he unabashedly champions America — and Americans. He has very effectively turned the tables on the left, which has weaponized its agenda against anyone who dares to disagree with it. We are branded as racists, sexists, Islamophobes, homophobes and bigots, while they use the full force of government to force compliance. Most Americans are sick of being turned into the enemy, stripped of both our hard-earned money to pay for the leftist agenda and our ability to feel good about ourselves in our own country. Further, by turning what Hillary Clinton calls “everyday Americans” into the enemy, the left has made it harder to see and deal with our real enemies, such as the Islamic State, Iran, Russia and the Muslim Brotherhood. The subtext of Mr. Trump’s message? Stop making us the enemy. That’s immensely powerful.
Second, he is unapologetic. He has refused to cave in to the leftist mafia-style intimidation racket, which gins up faux outrage and applies public pressure for an apology. After Mr. Trump’s comments about Mexico, the predictable outrage cycle began, and some of his business partners dumped him. And yet, he refused to apologize, because he was largely correct: A whopping 71 percent of non-American citizens in federal prisons are from Mexico, while Mexican criminals make up a stunning 16 percent of all convicts serving time in federal penitentiaries. That’s a major burden for the American taxpayer and a dangerous situation for us all. Mr. Trump doesn’t give in to the leftist mob — and neither should the other candidates.
Third, he fights back. His comments on illegal immigration stirred great controversy, but they were simply one part of his broader message that America is slipping away quickly — at the hands of the professional political class that cares more about retaining power than it does about the American people. Many voters believe the 2016 election is the last chance to save the country before it slides under the waves of statism. Mr. Trump gives voice to that anger, fear and frustration — and conveys the will to push back. His campaign slogan sums it up: “Make America great again.”
Fourth, he is the anti-politician. When Mr. Trump says “China is eating our lunch,” “I respect Mexico greatly as a country. But the problem we have is their leaders are much sharper than ours, and they’re killing us at the border and they’re killing us on trade,” and “I would take [the Islamic State] out so fast,” those “everyday Americans” hear truth and action, two things largely missing from the governing class. Details are thin as to how he would accomplish those things, but so what? Hillary Clinton isn’t exactly bursting with policy details at this point, either.
Lastly, he is anti-establishment. Many conservative voters feel utterly betrayed by a Republican establishment that has relentlessly marginalized them, their candidates and their beliefs. Mr. Trump is telling the base that he hears and shares its concerns. Last week, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, asked Mr. Trump to “tone it down.” Mr. Trump responded with a massive rally in Phoenix at which he said illegal immigrants “flow in like water.” The more others, such as fellow candidates Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Rick Perry, criticize Mr. Trump, the more “establishment” they appear to the base, and the more support Mr. Trump receives.
Donald Trump doesn’t need the presidency. With a multibillion-dollar empire, he’ll be just fine without it. That has liberated him to say and do things that may be unconventional and not particularly graceful, but which resonate strongly with an electorate parched for truth — and for the battle for the future.
The other candidates should take note: Running as if you have nothing to lose may, in fact, be the way to win.
• Monica Crowley is online opinion editor at The Washington Times.