Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Trump Bump

When Donald Trump entered the Presidential race on June 16th, his entry was met with derision (the press), consternation (fellow Republicans), and bemusement (Democrats). The event itself was mercilessly mocked, from his egotistical escalator descent to the members of the audience who were paid to be there, few thought "Mr. Trump" was doing anything other than what he tends to do - pump up his own "brand" through bombast and braggadocio. 

Whatever lift Trump may have received from the announcement was quickly deflated when he tore into the issue of immigration, and specifically, describing how murderers, drug dealers, and rapists were crossing the border to wreak havoc here in the good old U.S. of A. Business partners like Macy's (where Trump-branded menswear is sold, much of it made in China (irony)), NBC (home of his reality TV show "The Apprentice"), and Serta (yes, Virginia, there is a Trump-branded mattress), quickly cut ties with the real estate mogul. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to Trump's expected obscurity - his poll numbers took off. The more attention the media gave Trump's incendiary comments, the more popular he became, quickly vaulting into second place in polls taken in Iowa and North Carolina and, amazingly, leaping into first place in a YouGov/Economist poll taken nationwide of Republican voters. Just yesterday, he spoke to more than 4,000 people in Arizona, a crowd that dwarfed the largest ones drawn by any of his challengers. Trump has tapped into a vein of Republican voters who are deeply distrustful of Washington and "the establishment," fear the demographic changes going on in our country, and want someone to stand up for them. That their standard bearer would be a New York City real estate developer with a ridiculous hairdo and no filter was missed entirely by the press corps. 

All this all happened while Jeb Bush, who the media is breaking its back to carry water for, announced he had raised more than $114 million, much of it through a Super PAC affiliated with his candidacy. The media is stuck in the narrative that name recognition + deep pocketed donors = front runner even though Jeb has done little to merit this title. He is a desultory public speaker, stumbled badly when asked a rudimentary question about Iraq, and has not had much in the way of negative press coverage of what one would think would be hot button topics like his handling of Terri Schiavo while Governor of Florida or the fact that almost all of his foreign policy advisors served his father, brother, or both and what that might say about the direction he would lead the country.

Indeed, it seems like the dirty little secret to Jeb's candidacy is that he may end up being an emperor with no clothes. I will admit, way back in 2011, I foresaw him being nominated for many of the same reasons pundits still cling to - his family name, his experience, and sobriety, but the Republican party of 2015 is a different place than it was even four short years ago. Trump's rhetoric may be overheated, but it is not substantively much different than what you hear on Fox News or by many other leading Republicans (just google "Steve King cantaloupes"). And that's just on immigration. Other wedge social issues, like same sex marriage and contraception put most of the leading contenders for the nomination well outside mainstream thought in our country, but little attention is being paid to those topics because Trump is taking up so much oxygen. 

For all the money Bush has raised, the polls do not bear out much enthusiasm for his candidacy. Scott Walker is in the lead in Iowa, and while Bush leads (barely) in New Hampshire, the Granite State has been notoriously unfriendly to his family - Poppy Bush was crushed by Ronald Reagan in 1980 and stumbled badly against Pat Buchanan in 1992, and in 2000, John McCain blew out George W. Bush by almost 20 points. After that, the primary calendar moves to South Carolina, which has a favorite son candidate in the race and whose politics are more conservative than Bush's, and Nevada, where the Rand Paul acolytes are ready to put their man over the top. A string of Southern primaries have moved up to garner greater attention and there again, Bush may struggle against more conservative and evangelical opponents like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum (who did very well in the Deep South in 2012), and Rick Perry. 

Contrary to what his brother was able to do in 2000 - chase off challengers and secure endorsements through the might of his fundraising acumen - the Republican field this year is larger than it has ever been and Jeb has not separated himself in either national or early primary polls. If anything, his enormous financial haul speaks solely to the allure of his family name, something he claims he would not need (and would not use) to get elected. Of course, you won't hear anything approaching negative coverage from the Beltway media - they are too focused on pumping up Jeb as the "adult in the room" and the recipient of a polling surge (from 12 to 15%!) but Trump's popularity and sudden rise also illustrate something that is becoming more obvious with each passing election - the disconnect between the Beltway bubble and the rest of America. Fifteen years ago, another Bush hoovered up tens of millions of dollars and was anointed the frontrunner. Today, that narrative no longer holds true. 

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy

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