This will be the first and the last column I have written exclusively about the subject of Donald Trump and his candidacy. I’m known as a critic of the Donald. I’ve nicknamed him “Donald Chump” – not because I think he is a chump, but more because of my concern that he might wind up playing those of you out there that are thrilled by his candidacy in the GOP Presidential nomination race, as chumps.
In short, I’m not a fan. Having said that, I did witness his most recent speech on Saturday at the Phoenix Convention Center, live. I have been chewing on his statements there and considering my impressions and reaction to it. Now that they have crystallized to a degree, I will share them with you now.
Beginning with the event itself, Trump’s speech was originally to be held at a large meeting hall in a swanky hotel in Scottsdale – the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa. This venue had capacity of around 300 to 400 guests, but once the word got out that Trump was scheduled to speak in Phoenix and that legendary Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio would also be appearing, Trump’s campaign moved the event to the the city’s convention center and 7,500 (free) tickets were made available. The seats were claimed by eager residents in mere hours and thousands were not able to obtain seats.
Trump’s speech was announced to begin at 2PM but Trump did not arrive until nearly an hour later. It seemed an intentional tactic designed to heighten the intensity of the crowd’s anticipation. He got away with it. Trump zig zagged between various anecdotes and topics, but with one notable exception, his comments were centered around himself. It very much reminds one of a guy at a job interview, who is asked what his qualifications for the position are, and he then commandeers the interview and filibusters the hiring manager for an hour.
Trump proffered an explanation of why his corporate partners (Macy’s, NASCAR, NBC, Univision,etc.), cut their ties with him, why it is no big deal and how he not only did not lose money in the process, but actually profited by keeping their event deposits. This drew an enthusiastic response. Trump claims that he notified NBC that he wouldn’t be re-upping on the “Apprentice” contract because of the fairness doctrine and his plans to run for the nomination and that NBC is feigning ignorance of this and scoring political correctness points by claiming they canceled the show.
Mr. Trump made it a point to revive the “Silent Majority” theme of yesteryear, at the risk of calling forth an invocation of the late Jerry Falwell and the baggage associated with that. It was a positive with this crowd. Trump rehashed his boastful claims about how he is the master of deals and his personal access to the best of the best negotiators. This, in relation to how he respects Mexico and China, but they are beating the pants off of America in trade pacts that are not to our advantage. Trump says that he would make “incredible” deals that would restore jobs and restore balance to the relationships, regaining international respect. It was another winner with the audience.
The Donald got into a bit of a jam with foreign policy, but he extracted himself from it for the most part, I would suspect. The issue here is that a large, but statistically unknown contingent of Donald Trump’s supporters are folks who still have a fond place in their heart for George W. Bush, got drawn in by the “Ground Zero” speech and supported his decision to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein. Trump, who was very direct in his criticisms of Jeb Bush, not only scorched Bush for not being able to competently answer the “Should we have invaded Iraq” question with Megan Kelly, but also strongly criticized W’s actions in doing so.
Trump noted that he had been on record as opposing the invasion and says that matters ended as he predicted – the destabilization of the entire region. Compared to the reaction of the crowd to some of Trump’s other jabs against his various opponents, the response to this was muted to a degree.
A fair number among Trump’s followers are of the demonstrably false impression that if U.S. troops had remained in force for an indeterminate period of time, the outcome we’ve witnessed would be different. On the flip side of the coin, Trump got back in the groove by promising these potential voters that he would spend enormous sums of money, making the U.S. military budget exponentially larger than it is today – which is currently larger than the 10 top foreign military powers combined including Russia, China, France, U.K., North Korea and India. The premise here, according to Trump is that our opponents would not even think of “messing with us”. Trump seemed to be summoning Reagan’s “Peace through Strength” meme.
He left no doubt that he would commit large troop deployments to Iraq and Syria and where ever else necessary to destroy ISIS and take oil that is owed us for the military support in rescuing Iraqis. Resonating with all of his listeners was his promise to take care of veterans – an issue with particular relevance in Arizona because of the deaths attributed to failure and dysfunction at the Veteran’s Administration hospitals there. Trump groused that voters haven’t yet fully awakened to the incompetence and unsuitability of Jeb Bush for the nation’s highest office; “How can I be tied with this guy, he’s terrible? I’m killing everybody on jobs.” he said of his poll numbers. “I’m killing everybody on leadership.”
As for the rest of Trump’s message, much of it was devoted to making the point that his critics are not properly distinguishing between legal and illegal immigration and that the media, broadly speaking, is dishonest in separating Trumps’ quotes from their context, thus putting them in the worst possible light. That is true and they’ve been doing it for a long time and not only to Trump. Add in the cliché about “taking our country back” and you’ve got pretty much the same speech he gave in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and that you’ll be hearing elsewhere. You’ll be hearing it, because it is effective.
However, there was a stroke of extra genius. Trump is taking around with him, family members of citizens whose loved ones were murdered by illegal aliens that the authorities, (sanctuary cities and the feds) have not been responsibly dealing with. Out of the three in Phoenix, the most powerful – and they were all powerful testimonies, was that of Jamiel Shaw’s father, Jamiel Shaw Sr. Jamiel Shaw was a promising student athlete with offers from UCLA and Stanford, until he was shot by an MS-13 illegal alien gang member with a previous arrest record and who was harbored by Los Angeles’ Special Order 40.
Mr. Shaw spoke to the crowd of his experience of finding his son’s lifeless body on the street, with hands upraised – apparently one of the few genuine “Hands Up- Don’t Shoot” moments. It was deeply moving. It was an extremely powerful rebuttal to the limousine liberals who minimize the threat of marauding illegals with criminal records. Of Trump, Shaw said,
“We love Mr. Trump. We’re happy, because we know he spoke up and he said something.”
I didn’t bother to watch the chattering bunch on the networks respond to Trump’s speech. There was a reason why the only news venue that carried the entire speech live did so on the internet only, in a local, un- moderated live feed. The mass media does not want viewers to consume Donald Trump unfiltered, without their commentary, analysis and copious fact checking of even the most trivial details. They prefer their role as the gatekeepers of information.
Any political event served “animal” style, deprives them of their assumed privilege of repackaging it for viewers with loads of spin – that’s the cleanest way I can describe it. Allah forbid anyone should be allowed to make up their own mind. I understand the need for sports play by play announcers, but the issues Donald Trump raises are not exactly molecular biology. He’s not laying out specific policy proposals, but broad outlines at this point.
While Democratic attention is focused elsewhere on Hillary Clinton’s unraveling campaign, the Republicans are riveted to the Trump Circus. He has them more nervous than Bernie Sanders has the Dems. Which brings me to where I think things are headed.
We haven’t seen any candidate for any federal office that interacts with voters the way Donald Trump does. No matter what you think of Trump – he talks to audiences, not at them. He doesn’t have a script or a TelePrompTer, which is why he rambles here and there and swerves off on tangents and repeats himself occasionally. But none of this is a problem, because he comes across as accessible and authentic. He’s making people believe he’s leadership material. He tells them so, in no uncertain terms.
Another point, and Mr. Trump addresses this directly. Trump is not particularly likeable. That perpetual scowl of his, whether done for effect or if it is just an ingrained character trait, is annoying to look at, along with his braggadocio manner. But, as he will tell you, politicians are preoccupied with being liked over being respected, walking on tip toes instead of taking action and accomplishing things. Donald Trump inspires a lot of people that he knows how to accomplish things. He might be over promising unless he intends to operate in Imperial Presidency mode as did the past two presidents.
Trump can’t do many of the things he pledges to do without the cooperation of Congress. But the portrait of himself he is trying to convey, is someone who will be hands on and relentless with Congressional leadership and use the executive office to sell his ideas to Americans directly when necessary.
The pundits and the partisan political consultants think that the sentiment among Republican and more specifically, conservative voters that Trump oscillates with, are a small minority and have little disruptive potential. I beg to differ. That exuberant audience in Phoenix is where the real potential exists, to put Trump or someone like him over the top. The phenomenal polling numbers he has accumulated, will go to someone who strikes the same chords as Trump is striking, if Trump cashes it in somewhere further down the line. They will not be going to Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or other candidates who have the smell of RINO all over them.
I strongly suspect that Trump’s poll numbers haven’t peaked yet, but it is unlikely that he can sustain the momentum he has now. It is also unlikely he will get past the nomination process after a few debates. While he almost certainly won’t have a Rick Perry brain freeze, Trump will be caught somewhat flat footed on wonkish details. He doesn’t do his homework on them.
Trump is 100% right on the problems that are coming across our border and instinctively correct on the solutions, but doesn’t have ready answers when reporters cite inaccurate and biased studies, such as the ones they drag out to claim that the illegal crime rate is lower than that of the citizen crime rate – a falsehood I will strongly refute in an upcoming post.
What really frightens the GOP is that after likely voters have seen Trump shooting straight from the hip, they will reject the calculated, safe, glib speeches of the rest, loaded with empty platitudes. They’ll demand the candidates drop the scripts and give them something frank, direct and plain-spoken. The GOP establishment and this pack of candidates not only don’t know how to do something like that, but are deathly afraid to do so.
Donald Trump will drag them kicking and screaming.