It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a summer romance turns into a permanent relationship. That may be the case with Donald Trump whose summer surge has propelled him to the front of the herd seeking the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.
Conventional wisdom (which is often wrong) for weeks has put Trump in the same category as Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich and others who four years ago took turns rocketing to the top of the polls only to fall and be replaced by the next candidate who caught the voters’ fancy. But that race also featured the formidable campaign operation of Mitt Romney who played an electoral version of wack-a-mole to pick off anyone who gained traction against him. This year no one – yet – appears capable of taking down Trump.
At first Donald Trump appeared to be just another passing fad. He is a commanding presence and used his celebrity to launch his campaign feeding the narrative that this was just another PR ploy. But there is an old adage among public speakers that to get people to hear your message you must first get their attention. Nobody is better than Trump at getting attention, and now he is delivering his message.
The Republican Party establishment, mainstream news media and even the conservative punditry all initially wrote Trump off as a side show. As Trump whipped off a series of decidedly not politically correct broadsides against illegal aliens, John McCain, and Meghan Kelly, the tongues wagged that he had gone too far and was set to implode.
The implosion never happened. Instead, Trump has risen in the polls the most recent of which show him suddenly competitive in the General Election against the once-invincible candidate who is imploding, Hillary Clinton. Trump, it seems, can – and does – say whatever he wants and voters flock to him. He has almost literally pushed the other 16 candidates off the stage. On a recent night both Trump and Jeb Bush hosted town hall meetings in New Hampshire. Trump spoke before a raucous crowd of over 2,000; Bush talked with a couple hundred people many of whom appeared to be borderline comatose.
Trump has succeeded in becoming the dominant figure in the 2016 Presidential race because he has refused to play by the rules. And that is a good thing because the rulebook has been written by the Left and by design puts Republicans in general and conservatives in particular on the defensive. Trump refuses to be defensive – he is always on the attack.
Accuse Trump of flip-flopping on issues? No problem, the rules don’t apply. Accuse Trump of insulting women? No problem, the rules don’t apply. Accuse Trump of insulting illegal aliens? No problem, the rules don’t apply. The political class says he is a passing fad? No problem, the rules don’t apply.
It has become crystal clear Americans of all political stripes feel the nation is off track and someone has to, as Trump would put it “make America great again.” That is the nature of Bernie Sanders’ appeal to the Left, and Trump’s appeal to GOP voters. The difference is Sanders’ policy solutions won’t play with a broader swath of the electorate. But with Trump voters see an ultra-successful businessman who has gotten things done and they believe he can make good on his promise to lead the nation back to greatness.
So Trump has again succeeded where all others have failed. He has the attention of the voters, and is putting forth solid – if controversial – policy solutions. But winning a presidential nomination requires an extensive organization that collects a majority of the delegates who will assemble in Cleveland the summer next. That is Trump’s challenge: converting popularity into delegates. He also must overcome the fact that while he leads the race, more voters have a negative opinion of him than those who have a positive one, making it difficult to build upon his base of support.
Trump, of course, is accustomed to building things. His current project is a mammoth hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. midway between the Capitol and the White House. If he can capitalize on his current front-runner status, Donald Trump may acquire some additional real estate a few blocks down the street.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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