Remember when Donald Trump’s comments about John McCain were supposed to have doomed his candidacy, exposing him as the clown that responsible people always knew him to be?
That was July 18. Since then …
Every poll of Republican voters taken since July 30 gives Trump a double-digit lead over his competitors. In the latest Fox News poll, Trump is the first choice of 26 percent of Republican voters. He is the first or second choice of 38 percent of Republicans, also tops in the field. Back in early June, 59 percent of Republicans told Fox pollsters that they would never vote for Trump. Today, that number is down to 33 percent. Think about that: In less than two months, a quarter of the GOP electorate has shifted from “never” to “maybe” on Trump. That’s remarkable. **
Breaking it down further, Trump leads among Republican men, among Republican women, among Republican white men and white women. He leads among Republicans with a college degree, and those without a degree. He leads among Republicans under 45 — pulling 35 percent of the vote — and those over 45. He leads among those making less than $55,000, and more than $55,000. He leads among conservatives, and also among white evangelicals.
In short, Trump leads. And why does he lead?
There are a lot of theories, but personally, I think it’s because he shows such total disdain for complexity. In the Trumpian worldview, the solution to every problem has just two components: First, you choose the outcome that you prefer — usually of the “I win, you lose” variety” — then you apply the will needed to create that outcome. That’s it, period, next problem please. And while every politician is guilty of that to a degree, none approaches the shamelessness of Trump.
That’s how he will make America great again. That’s how he will solve the Middle East. That’s how he will halt illegal immigration AND get a majority of the Hispanic vote in the process. Watch him in interviews, and he steadfastly refuses to be drawn into discussion of details and consequences, because details and consequences are where things get complicated. Talk of details and consequences is for losers. He talks results, not process. (See Gordian knot, Alexander).
For many voters, that worldview is highly appealing. They’ve been promised for years that the usurper Obama would be defeated, that ObamaCare would be repealed, that social changes such as gay marriage would be stopped dead in their tracks. Yet none of it has happened, and when they demand explanations from party leaders, what do they get? Vague talk about the details of congressional procedures or warnings about potential political consequences. Not surprisingly, they’ve come to see details and consequences as nothing more than excuses.
But here’s the irony of it all: Republicans supporting Trump as a protest against the do-nothing GOP establishment are playing into the establishment’s hands and making it more likely that the establishment’s favored candidate, Jeb Bush, will be the party’s nominee. That’s because as long as Trump is in the race and dominating polls and headlines, candidates who might be capable of a more sustained challenge to Bush — Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, John Kasich or even Ted Cruz — are being starved of the attention and traction they need.
I realize that those supporting Trump may not want to hear that they’re hurting their own cause because, you know, details and consequences and all that. But it’s nonetheless true.
** The Fox poll also puts Barack Obama’s job approval rating at 46 percent, equal to his disapproval rate. Among American voters under 35, it’s 59 percent approval, 30 percent disapproval. And when asked to cite the most important issue facing the country, just 2 percent of registered voters said it was abortion, the issue over which the GOP is now threatening to shut down the government.