The conventional wisdom on the 2016 presidential race seemed to be settling into the media narrative of a romantic metaphor, that what we are seeing is the supporters of each of the two major parties having a fling with the one who has swept them off their feet with his dashing attitude (Donald Trump for Republicans, Bernie Sanders for the Democrats) before they settle down later with the more boring, sedate, and reliable partner (Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton). Parallels are being drawn to Herman Cain and Howard Dean to suggest that Trump and Sanders will also fade away.
But there are signs that this fling may not end as quickly and that the infatuation may be more lasting, causing some concern especially on the Republican side. While the party leadership would not have been surprised, given Trump’s ability to garner attention, to see him crowding out the second-tier candidates, the fact that he has shot to the top of the pack in some polls with 18%, with Scott Walker second at 15% and Jeb Bush third at 14%, must have triggered whispered conversations about how to surreptitiously torpedo his candidacy. That is going to be the story in the coming months.
One thing is clear and that is that there is no way that the Republican party establishment will let Trump be the nominee, however much his popularity remains high. They desperately want to seize the White House and they are not going to let someone whom they think will not only lose in a landslide but set their party back by decades, become their standard bearer. You can be sure that plots are being hatched against him as we speak.
The problem with Trump is that he doesn’t play by the rules that have been carefully honed by the parties. He has no use for the dog-whistle coded language that enables candidates to appeal to their base’s racist and xenophobic prejudices without openly saying so. He says what the others merely imply. Furthermore, they cannot use money as a lever against him by pressuring donors to cut him off because he has the money to fund is own campaign. And since he does not seem to care about getting the endorsements of party leaders, he does not bother to suck up to them.
As an example of Trump’s disdain for the party elders, when 2008 nominee John McCain belittled Trump’s surge in the polls by saying about his success that “What he did was he fired up the crazies”, Trump immediately shot back that “[McCain] should be defeated in the primaries. Graduated last in his class at Annapolis– dummy!” (There is a delicious irony in McCain accusing Trump of firing up the crazies because that is precisely what McCain did in 2008 when he selected Sarah Palin as his running mate. In many ways, Palin was the proto-Trump.)
Trump could have played a useful role for the party by starving the second- and third-tier candidates of the media oxygen they desperately need to survive, thus greatly reducing the field quickly and making it less of the clown car nightmare that currently exists. They may have hoped that once he had served that purpose, he too could be eliminated. And while he is undoubtedly hurting the lower-ranked candidates, what they likely did not expect was that he would overshadow even the party favorites.
Trump has gone after the establishment candidate Jeb Bush with a vengeance and it will be interesting to see how he responds. I don’t think Bush can prevail in a nasty smackdown fight with someone who just doesn’t give a damn, especially since the other candidates will enjoy seeing the front-runner Bush being brought down too.
As the Aug. 6 debate grows closer, some Republicans are relishing the prospect of Trump tearing the bark off the former governor — or, at the very least, trying to trip him up. “Trump has one target and one target only,” said an adviser to a rival GOP candidate. “He’s going to bring a lawn mower for Bush.”
One strategy that is being adopted seems to be to try and discredit Trump in the eyes of the party base by bringing up old positions of his that are counter to current party orthodoxy. For example, back in 1999 when he also flirted with running for president, Trump said that he was pro-choice, supported universal health care of the single-payer type, and seemed at least open to the idea of same-sex marriage. He also sounded like he could have been a member of the Occupy movement, proposing a massive tax on the wealthy.
Trump, a prospective candidate for the Reform Party presidential nomination, is proposing a one-time “net worth tax” on individuals and trusts worth $10 million or more.
By Trump’s calculations, his proposed 14.25 percent levy on such net worth would raise $5.7 trillion and wipe out the debt in one full swoop.
“By my calculations, 1 percent of Americans, who control 90 percent of the wealth in this country, would be affected by my plan,” Trump said.
“The other 99 percent of the people would get deep reductions in their federal income taxes,” he said.
In the days to come, expect to see a lot of stories about these old statements planted in the media by Republican party operatives and for the other candidates to raise them in speeches and debates.