Here in the desert fastness of Santa Fe, the air is thin and Donald Trump seems very far away. I have been partly amused, partly alarmed, by the frenzied cataract of abuse Republicans have heaped upon the Donald. Just a few weeks ago, he was merely an annoyance, entertaining if you like bluster, but certainly not serious. Then he made his remarks about John McCain not being a war hero, or at least, not the sort of war hero he, D. Trump, really likes. I was at a dinner party the day Trump made that remark and was assured by a prominent pundit that Trump was now finished and good riddance. That hasn’t happened yet. In fact, Trump seems to keep rising in the polls. Today’s RealClearPolitics running average has Trump at 18.2 with someone named Bush a fairly distant second at 13.7. At this point in the game, that same pundit assured us assembled serious thinkers, polls don’t matter. So we can discount the numbers.
Or can we? The late, not-really-lamented Spy magazine used to describe Trump as a “short-fingered vulgarian,” which seems about right. What, when you come right down to it, does the man stand for? What does he believe? As Kevin Williamson has tactfully pointed out, we don’t really know. Trump has supported and indeed donated to Hillary. He is pro-abortion. He was, judging by his actions, pro-illegal immigration until, fifteen minutes ago, he was against. He is good friends with Chuck Schumer. And he sees nothing wrong with Kelo-like deicsions enabling the state to confiscate private property for (just to take a random example) casinos emblazoned with large gilded Ts.
No, Donald Trump is, as Kevin remarks, a clown. But here are two things to bear in mind. First of all, the wave Trump is riding will probably help Jeb Bush more than anyone. As the Serious People who actually choose our political leaders contemplate the Trump phenomenon and panic, they are likely to do what they did with Bob Dole and cluster round the most anodyne, least threatening candidate, and that means Jeb, who is clearly the Establishment’s choice. (Headline in today’s Wall Street Journal: “Bush Drawing Big Bucks From GOP Establishment.”) As I have said before, I would rue a Bush candidacy, and indeed a Bush presidency. For one thing, two men from the same family in a quarter century is enough. For another, Bush is wet. Even assuming he won, he would merely keep the seat of the presidency warm for the next left-wing Democrat who would embark anew on the process of dismantling the capitalist, freedom-loving principles that made the United States a beacon to the world.
But let’s leave Bush to one side—if only we could!—and return to the clown in mufti, Donald Trump. What only a few commentators have cottoned on to is that Trump has touched a nerve. His popularity may be fragile, may even be illusory. But he has, in his semi-articulate jabbering, reminded people that there is a world outside the beltway. It’s partly a matter of substance, partly style. People in many parts of the country are appalled by the flood of illegal immigrants that is changing the character of this country. Trump speaks to that. He also, quite obviously, eschews the focus groups. He doesn’t care about donors because he could himself pay for his own campaign several times over. He says what he thinks. It would be nice, perhaps, if the path between his cerebellum and his mouth were a bit longer and more circumspect, but his bluntness plays to the masses. He delights in tweaking the politically correct establishment.
In the locker room at my gym a week or two back, two blue-collar chaps were talking about a house in a town near me that has been taken over by illegal immigrants. A dozen or more people live there, drifting in and out. The house is a wreck, as are the grounds. The police take no notice. Something, one of the fellows said, should be done. That’s when the other chap mentioned Donald Trump. I didn’t catch all the details of their conversation, but it was clear they liked what he said, and they liked the way he said it. He didn’t care whom he offended. He just said what he thought. Maybe he went a little far. But wasn’t that better than the (my term) milquetoast establishment terrified of offending some constituency, somewhere?
I don’t think Donald Trump will be the GOP candidate in 2016, and I don’t think he would win if he were. But he has raised some issues that the high and mighty dispensers of conventional wisdom would do well to ponder. Moreover, he has done it in a way that, though terribly, terribly vulgar, is catapulting Trump to first place in the polls. What does that tell us? That the people are stupid and need to be guided by the suits in Washington? If you believe that, I submit, you are going to be profoundly disappointed come November 2016.