When former Governor Jeb Bush announced in late 2014 that he would “actively explore” a run for president, it was big news for prospective presidential candidates on both sides of the partisan divide, as well as for many Republican donors and bundlers. When he rolled out the “Right to Rise” leadership PAC, and then went on to help raise over $100 million before officially declaring himself a candidate, the exclamation point on “Jeb!” seemed to be almost an understatement. The lead in the July 9, 2015, USNews story on the impressive haul made clear much of the nation’s read on the coming presidential contest: “Look no further than Jeb Bush’s super PAC total to understand where the real power will lie in the 2016 presidential contest.”
As in years past, an awful lot of pundits and analysts (I’d include myself in this “awful lot”) believed that the ! in the 2016 Republican contest (and in the Democratic contest, which wasn’t and still really isn’t seen as a contest so much as a sparring match) would be money and those who were able to raise it. So “Jeb!” with over $100 million lined up before the campaign even seriously began . . . that’s a big, bold exclamation point.
But we were wrong.
When Donald Trump announced that, this time, he seriously was running for president (something he has toyed with since the 1988 campaign season), that same “awful lot” considered him a sideshow and wondered whether this was just a bid to boost his brand.
Turns out that the biggest exclamation point in this campaign cycle isn’t the man with millions in a war chest, but a man with billions in his personal portfolio and a tendency to puff out his chest at the slightest provocation . . . or to provide the provocation, if it isn’t ready to hand.
So let’s put the exclamation point where it belongs: Trump!
If you like what you’ve come to believe Donald Trump stands for and what you believe he will do as president, Tuesday’s Nevada caucus results are cause for celebration. Every effort to suggest that “the Donald” couldn’t reach certain key demographics, couldn’t get close to majority support in a Republican race (let alone the general election) has been made suspect by the Nevada caucus entrance poll results. He came out the big winner, and with an expanding list of demographic classifications (including women, evangelicals, and, according to some reports, Latinos) that seems to defy our understanding of what makes voters in these groups tick.
This well may be because support for Trump isn’t sociological; it’s psychological.
Poll after poll has told us that Trump wins HUGE among those who are past all patience with establishment politics. In Nevada, fully 86% of caucus goers who are looking for a candidate who “tells it like it is” went with Trump, along with 70% of those who favor an outsider. In New Hampshire and South Carolina, Trump carried the angry voters, though by more modest margins (Cruz does well with angry voters, too).
This is the dilemma for the Republican establishment, if it wants someone other than Donald Trump to be the party’s standard bearer this fall. The more they coalesce around a champion, the more Trump can target his assaults and his insults, and the more his natural constituencies will love him for it. It also may be that, the more the “establishment” attacks, the better it plays to the Trump narrative, and the more appealing that narrative will be for Republicans who are not entirely enthralled with the established order (which is a lot of folks).
One thing those of us in local government understand better than most others in politics is anger. Most of us have faced a council chamber or school auditorium packed with angry residents who insist that we do what the public demands. That they don’t represent “the public” is almost impossible for them to believe as they feed on each other’s rage and fear. “The public has spoken.”
Well, there certainly are some publics speaking, if not yet the American public, in this national election cycle. If we have learned nothing else so far, we have learned that anyone who does not address the anger and fear of a meaningful segment of our electorate is destined for an unpleasant day of reckoning.