Political oxygen is an expensive commodity even at the early stages of a campaign, and there's one candidate that's getting way more than his share, Donald Trump. His 'brand' is rapidly becoming a household name among Americans who are fed up with Washington, politics and politicians. According to Gallup’s most recent annual poll of attitudes toward our governments, Trump has hit a big nerve in our body politic of 2016. That's the obvious observation.
The Gallup study uncovered several time bombs that have been ticking away for many years and that explain much of Trump’s early success: Seventy nine percent of Americans believe members of Congress are generally out of touch with average Americans, up 10 percent from a decade ago; a majority (52 percent) believe most members of Congress are corrupt, up 14 percent from 10 years ago. In terms of the overall feeling about our country today, a whopping 70 percent express dissatisfaction, up 20 percent from 20 years ago. The most telling of all was the Gallup question that asked: “Do you think the federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedom of ordinary citizens, or not?” The result was 49 percent agreed, up from 30 percent in 2003, which means half of the U.S. expresses significant volatility for this upcoming election.
What isn't so obvious is what Mr. Trump's candidacy will do to the long-term prospects for a Republican win in 2016.
Aside from keeping the crystal ball gazers inside the Beltway up at nights, the fear that he will become the face of the Republican Party in the short term is generating massive angst among the campaigns of the more soft-spoken Republican candidates. This has prompted many questions such as: How does one counter a 'Trumpkrieg' of bombast delivered with the certainty of a top salesman? How does a candidate gain control of the ball after a fumble (like Trump's recent toxic Hispanic comments) and still be able to win the ultimate game of all games -- the presidency?
America is indeed ready for a populist conservative on public policy issues, not just another boring economic conservative or an overly moralistic social conservative.
In our recent book, "Breaking Republican," my co-author S. J. Helgesen and I have advocated for a Republican 'Third Way' candidate after drilling deep in the 2014 election results in which over 77 million citizens turned out to vote.
To win, we found that the next president should not only be upset by Washington partisan politics, but must also have actually run something other than a Congressional office.
We believe that America is indeed ready for a populist conservative on public policy issues, not just another boring economic conservative or an overly moralistic social conservative.
Real America is center right in its political attitudes. Therefore, this candidate must be “outside” the conventional political system, have the bona fides of a successful strong manager who can stitch together a new coalition of constituencies, and be a “white knight” who represents real change and not just hope. This interpretation obviously precludes the dynastic fantasies of the Bushes and the Clintons.
Despite his lead in the polls, that person may not be Donald Trump though he does qualify on at least two levels: he's an outside-the-Beltway figure and he has demonstrated a remarkable business savvy that has made him a wealthy man beholden to no one enabling him to speak his mind without getting crossways with his donor base.
Unfortunately, he is at the moment, more 'Third Rail' than 'Third Way,' meaning he has positioned himself as too controversial to be elected. While he has succeeded in tapping into the anger and disappointment of many Americans he has not yet been able to assure them that he has the 'right stuff' to solve their problems.
There are those in my profession that feel that Hispanics are the new swing voters when it comes to wielding political influence in 2016. If that is the case, Mr. Trump has effectively alienated himself from that voter group by his recent remarks and his stance on immigration.
Hispanic voters aren't sheep and they will not be fooled by blatant back-pedaling, half-hearted faux apologies or pandering. Like any voter, they want to be taken seriously and spoken to respectfully. They also have very long memories when it comes to mistreatment.
Turning the insiders out
Republican candidates still considered 'establishment' but with proven managerial and fiscal track records (like John Kasich, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina and perhaps Marco Rubio) must adopt an individual de-Trumping strategy that works for them without seeming unnatural. While all had a chance to reveal their true selves in the recent CNN debate, nearly all failed to wrest the spotlight from the front-runner and ended up shadow-boxing with him.
Democrats are hoping for a Trump win because they see him as too outspoken to be electable while moderate Republicans are praying for civility and common sense to emerge and push the ideological pendulum back to their “business as usual” comfort zone.
It is obvious that this presidential election will be very different as many newer younger voters (the result of the Obama elections) will assert their ballot box rights and vote to solve problems older voters have been struggling with for decades.
For many, it’s all new and they seem to be saying “we’re not going to take this anymore.”
Even though the U.S. has changed both demographically and politically since the last great upheaval of the 1980 election cycle, there seems to be a stunning similarity to the governance instability of the year before Ronald Reagan’s victory.
The political class in Washington in 1980 was late to recognize that epic shift.
As Gallup’s recent governance survey indicates, the political class may be making a mistake again.