The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson has an excellent column eviscerating Donald Trump, who earlier this week announced he was running for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Gerson’s column follows another insightful commentary, this one by our own Jonathan Tobin, who offers observations about what a Trump candidacy might mean for the Republican Party.
I, too, worry Trump’s presence will damage the image of the Republican Party. I say that because Trump is a buffoon, a narcissist, and deeply unserious. Unfortunately his presence in the race – and especially on the debate stage, should he be invited to participate – will guarantee enormous attention. His idiocies have the potential to dominate the show, particularly since elements within the press will be eager to make him representative of the Republican Party. As Jonathan puts it, “The Todd Akin precedent here will apply in a way that it would not if Trump were merely a spectator to the presidential derby. If he’s in it, each one of his statements will be brandished by the left as a club to beat all conservatives, even if most want nothing to do with him.”
Which brings me to conservatives and Mr. Trump. In a piece published on Thursday, I argued
For some on the right – not all by any means, but some —substance, philosophy and governing achievements don’t matter all that much. What does matter to them is style – and the style they prefer is strident, angry, and apocalyptic.
This point helps explain the appeal Trump has to some on the right. After all, Trump is hardly a conservative on the issues. In the past he’s advocated a single-payer health care system (which even ObamaCare didn’t give us), called for massive tax increases, favored abortion rights, and revealed himself to be hyper-protectionist. Today he attacks those who want to reform Social Security and Medicare, the main threats to our fiscal future. He was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2008. As of 2011, he had given a majority of his $1.3 million political contributions to Democrats, including Harry Reid. If that wasn’t enough, Trump has a fondness for conspiracy theories, from linking autism to vaccinations to being America’s most prominent birther.
What, then, could possibly be the attraction of Trump to conservatives? For some, it seems, the attraction is found in the Trump style, which is precisely the concern. Mr. Trump’s announcement speech was rambling, vague, shallow, simplistic, insulting, ad hominem, and self-obsessed. He has no governing agenda and no governing philosophy; all he has is an attitude. And that attitude is crude and off-putting. Trump would be temperamentally and intellectually unqualified to run for the state legislature; running for president is ludicrous. But that’s where we are.
I’m not quite sure what the Republican Party and the conservative movement can do about Trump. If he polls well enough to be invited to participate in the debates, it’s hard to keep him out. Doing so might become a rallying point for him and his supporters. But here’s what I know they shouldn’t do, which is to be sympathetic towards him and his candidacy. Nor should they speak as if Trump has something to useful and constructive to offer. To say, as Fox’s Eric Bolling did, that Trump is “refreshing.” He isn’t.
Donald Trump is a stain on the Republican Party and conservatism, and leaders of the party shouldn’t be afraid to say so.