Trump's Achilles' heel
By Donna Brazile
A candidate who presents ideas from his or her best perspective represents campaigning at its ethical best. When two or more candidates do this, it allows voters to see issues from every angle -- to witness how the ideas hold up under the clash of debate.
But for cynical politicians, telling voters what they want to hear, even if the politician thinks it's nuts, is the way to win elections on the cheap.
Donald J. Trump takes this philosophy one step further. He doesn't just tell supporters what they want to hear, he speaks their minds -- especially their fears, their prejudices, their hostilities, their anger, even the profanity they use in barroom political conversations.
One of my readers put it well:
"It occurs to me ... that it isn't so much that Trump 'speaks his mind,' but that he speaks the mind of the dissatisfied voter. And what is to blame for voter dissatisfaction but the obstructionism in the current government?
"This Congress has the lowest approval rating of any previously. The current rise of Trump with his (middle-finger) attitude for everyone and everything is just how voters feel. The Republican Party has worked long and hard (to) block anything with Obama's name on it. The result is that people are angry and frustrated."
Few political analysts have put Trump's strategy as succinctly, while many others have yet to uncover it. Yet, here is the "secret" of Trump's success: He has observed the growing frustration with gridlock in Washington that Republican leaders fostered, and he's capitalizing on it by posturing as the ultimate "anti-establishment" candidate, even though he, himself, is a bona fide, entrenched, Wall Street establishment member.
There is ample evidence Trump has few convictions. There is live debate evidence that Trump has given no thought to developing policies. Instead, Trump presents plans by looking at what his target voters want, then concocting simple solutions. For instance, deporting 11 million anonymous immigrants and building a wall. And the Mexican government will pay for it.
Trump has never met a campaign position he didn't embrace. He was for the Iraq War before he was against it. He was for abortion before he opposed it. In the early debates, he called his opponents dumb, incompetent and even too ugly to be president. This week, he talked about how qualified, smart and dedicated they are -- the very same ones.
Trump is now shedding some of his bad boy persona. He's shifting to the middle to capitalize on Democratic voter anger over Republican obstruction in Washington. Never mind that they want Trump and his Wall Street partners to willingly give up government policies that corner most of the nation's income wealth.
And never mind that those same policies have pushed millions of Americans out of the middle class into paycheck-to-paycheck poverty. Trump is certain he can perform his smoke and mirrors routine just as well on them as he has on the extreme, radical right.
After placing fourth against Trump in South Carolina, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suspended his presidential campaign. The Bush family is well liked, even loved, among Republicans. Trump made a big mistake in attacking them. Still, Jeb did not grasp the depth of voter anger over Washington gridlock and those associated with it. Nor did he give the appearance of a robust, hungry candidate -- a quality Trump exploited. Finally, as well loved as the Bush family is, voters want (as Obama put it), "that new car smell." Three Bushes was just one too many.
But a debate dust-up with Jeb revealed Trump's Achilles' heel. His knee-jerk reaction to go on the attack when he dislikes someone (which is quite often) caused him to kick Bush, who was clearly down. Trump's numbers dipped in the aftermath of that debate performance, although not enough to prevent him from collecting all the South Carolina delegates. Still, his predilection to lash out even when holding back would be more pragmatic is likely to resurface, and next time the results could be more damaging.
Trump has benefited by taking extreme positions that capture media obsession and that set the issues. Witness what he's done on immigration. Absent Trump, we'd be debating deporting immigrants vs. immigration reform. Instead, so far, the entire immigration debate centers around deporting families vs. not prohibiting immigrants to return -- the latter position being Sen. Marco Rubio's massive flip-flop, or rather, "political evolution."
Just around the corner are 11 states with primaries. It's Super Tuesday, which this year falls on March 1. Ted Cruz enters these primaries wounded by his loss in South Carolina, where the large evangelical vote was supposed to be his firewall. Nor did it help that both Trump and Rubio attacked him as a serial liar, though (truth be told), some of what he did was merely to quote his opponents.
A Trump nomination, even if he should sweep all 11 Super Tuesday states, is not inevitable. Trump does have vulnerabilities. Ohio Gov. John Kasich stands a competitive chance of beating Trump in Ohio and Michigan. This would cause a major reassessment of Trump's electability. Further, as the number of Trump's opponents shrink, their former supporters will grow Rubio's share of the vote.
It's not over -- far from it.
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