Republicans aren’t strangers to kooky conservatives dominating headlines in the early primary season. Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 (or is it 5-5-5 or 3-3-3?) tax plan, Newt Gingrich’s attempt to get rid of child labor laws, Rick Santorum’s black/”blah” people comments, and Rick Perry’s memory (or lack thereof) have all caused tenuous archconservative bubbles to burst within the first months of primary season politicking. It remains extremely unlikely Trump will fly the flag for Republicans in the general election; however, a host of factors—his money, his operational freedom to say and do what he wants because of that money, and frankly, his popularity—beg the question of whether we should start taking “The Donald”—not just as an indicative sample of conservative anger and angst, but as an actual primary candidate—much more seriously.
The initial urge to not take Trump seriously is understandable. Conventional wisdom forbids it. The fella came in hot. After gliding down the escalator of Trump Tower to announce his candidacy, he proceeded to make outlandish, offensive claims that Mexican immigrants “being sent by the Mexican government” are connected to criminal activity such as rape and drug dealing; then in short order, he just as offensively conceded that he “assumes that some of them are good people.” After that, he laughably proclaimed in an NBC interview, “I will win the Latino vote.”
In keeping with his brash prideful character, Trump has either sued those who have broken off ties with him in light of his increasingly frequent and unrepentantly racist comments or claimed that he was the one who called things off. Despite being presented with multiple chances to backtrack as he made the ceremonial rounds on news shows, Trump, unfazed, dug in further with a stated belief that he’s speaking for a new “silent majority” of Americans. He bellowed in a recent campaign speech in Phoenix, “The silent majority is back, and we’re going to take the country back!”
The original ‘silent majority’ was the coalition of Nixon supporters that did not participate in or sympathize with counterculture or war protests in the 60’s and 70’s and yearned for a return to the mores of America’s mid-century status quo. Trump harking back to this term to draw a connection to those now backing his campaign is a clear play for Republican base voters who, like the silent majority of the past, are increasingly unnerved by a changing America that they believe is turning against their favor.
In a Politico op-ed, Keith Koffler—editor of the White House Dossier, and general member of the rightwing blogosphere—offered up a slightly intellectualized explanation for the appeal Trump has to this silent majority. He points out to the mainstream masses how for them, America becoming less traditional, less conservative, and frankly, less white and thus less in ‘their’ possession, is a bad thing. They see the preponderance of “Black Lives Matter,” marriage equality, and transgender acceptance (‘men can now be women and women can now be men simply if they choose to, no matter what’s actually in their pants’) as more evidence that the fabric of the 20th century society they’ve tried to conserve is crumbling. Koffler writes:
Trump is seen as one that can help piece the seething disorder back together. That is always the promise of demagogues, who convey a sense of certainty during bewildering times, and who blame “others” and foreigners—in Trump’s case Mexico and China—for the ills besetting the homeland.
Trump’s supporters, like Trump himself, are angered by their inability to express the oft-offensive contents of their discontent without being condemned by a new mainstream with more modern sensibilities. Still, whether or not Trump’s ‘silent majority’ is composed of the majority of the Republican party, whatever caustic coalition he has formed is limited in scope and lasting durability—nowhere near as proven as the Nixon era constituency.
The Republican establishment expects and hopes that Trump will eventually be squeezed out—that cooler heads with calmer tongues will prevail. Prominent among that crop is Jeb Bush, who has been on the receiving end of Trump’s fury himself (he accused Bush of liking “Mexican illegals because of his wife”).
Jeb Bush (along with Senators Rubio and Cruz) has been offered up as a prescription to the GOP’s colored people woes. Bush’s brother and father did relatively well with the Hispanic vote, and though a WASP by birth, Jeb speaks Spanish fluently, married a Mexican woman (a naturalized citizen since 1979), and is the former governor of a moderate state with a large Latino population, Florida.
“He’s doing this to inflame and incite and to draw attention, which seems to be the organizing principle of his campaign,” Jeb Bush reasoned. “To make these extraordinarily ugly kind of comments is not reflective of the Republican Party.” Bush’s first statement may be true, but if Trump’s comments aren’t at all reflective of the Republican Party, then Donald Trump would not be leading Jeb Bush, the supposed favorite. Though it’s still early, currently, technically, a plurality of Republican voters agree with Trump, not Bush.
You can call them uniformed, but not unimportant. Not electorally speaking. Like the uncouth cousins that you have no choice but to invite to the family wedding, Trump and his likeminded supporters cannot be wished away. The ugly side of the GOP family tree is there for the entire world to see.
And the Trump crew can buy their own plane ticket to the event no matter the monetary barrier. Trump’s recently revealed $10 billion net worth proves that. “Every single person who gave Jeb Bush and Hillary money has something lined up, and it’s not necessarily and probably not at all to the benefit of [the American people],” Trump teased. “Special interests, lobbyists, donors, they all get something.”
Trump’s not entirely wrong here. His freedom from fundraising rids him of the reins and whips of expectant mega donors. Trump’s campaign boastfully announced the submission of his paperwork to the Federal Election Commission: “This report was not designed for a man of Mr. Trump’s massive wealth . . . For instance, they have boxes once a certain number is reached that simply state $50 million or more. Many of these boxes have been checked.” Although the self-parodying tone of the statement may provoke chuckles, in an age when 91% of the time the congressional candidate with more money wins the election, the importance of campaign finance cannot be ignored. Trump has the power to be his own master.
Maybe if Trump’s self-made meteoric rise begins to somehow translate into primary wins, putting a serious dent in the armor of the political establishment, he will have the roundabout effect of prodding this nation’s elite to finally take up campaign finance reform.