At the start of the presidential race, the establishment GOP looked indulgently upon Donald Trump’s consideration of candidacy. Who could take him seriously? The real estate and media mogul had suggested pursuing the presidency too often before. In a few weeks, days even, the joke would end and the presidential race could properly continue.
The problem? Trump was serious this time. Even more surprisingly, he leapt to the top of the polls within days of declaring candidacy, and stayed on top even post-debate. It seems that no matter how acidic his comments or controversial his interviews, citizens are listening. The problem: the GOP does not want Donald Trump.
All About Image?
While it is traditionally Republican to have a strong stand against undocumented immigrants, it is classically Trump to want to build an actual wall between the US-Mexican border. It is traditionally Republican to say that undocumented immigrants may have negative influences on their destination country; it is classically Trump to label them “murderers and rapists.”
Trump is not only unashamedly racist in his speech, he is often outspokenly sexist as well. This is more boon than bane to the Republicans. As seen in the first Republican debate, the other Republican candidates began to step up, contrasting their views and plans to Trump’s. With more citizens tuning in to the debate than usual, this is their opportunity.
At the same time, it is clear that part of the problem could very well be about image. In the debate, Trump stated, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. […] I frankly don’t have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either.” Trump was applauded, underscoring the fact that “political correctness” is losing ground with voters as a synonym for “I’m not sure.”
The Real Problems
Donald Trump held no public office before running for president, and does not come from a political family. His answers to every interview question, no matter how opinionated, are listened to because they are direct and unapologetic. In fact, all policy stands aside, he might have just the personality to challenge the Democratic candidate. He is the farthest thing from a traditional politician.
Which, in fact, constitutes the real problem. Donald Trump is not only contemptuous of politics and political processes, he breaks the unspoken rule: do not talk about interconnections between private and public affairs.
Trump held back this wild card for the first Republican debate. When challenged on his donations to Democratic candidates in the past, he turned the question on its head by saying that it was not about giving donations to one candidate or another, it was simply about gaining business favors from politicians–no matter what their party was. But just when it seemed that he would discredit himself through the admission, he challenged the entire political system.
“I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me. And that’s a broken system.”
By using his own business dealings to prove the flaws of the political system, Trump regained his credibility. At the same time, he stepped over the virtual line. It is not like he was talking about anything new. After all, even if every single presidential candidate refused to let their donors influence their policy stands, the suspicion would still be there. All Trump did was to declare that these kinds of exchanges were really happening; on national media, no less.
Donald Trump: The Republican Wild Card
They can attack his racist and sexist comments, his acidic foreign policies and vague economic plans. But their greatest challenge is and will continue to be Trump’s outspokenness on the stage. When asked why his policy stances change, he answered that he evolved.
When challenged on his sexist comments, he complained that some people cannot take a joke. When brought to the stand on his business practices, he spoke on the corruption of the system. The problem the Republicans have to face for the near future is that Donald Trump makes everyone else look good by contrast, but he also makes them look pretty bad.