Politics & Policy

Trump, the Insult Comic Candidate

(Tom Pennington/Getty)
Why Donald Trump’s political rhetoric will not go quietly into the night

Donald Trump has run a nasty, vicious, and loathsome campaign. His views, ideas, and policies are, for the most part, the complete antithesis of what small-c conservatism represents, or should represent, in a modern democratic society.

There’s no denying, however, that he has been incredibly successful.

Trump’s personal appeal, tough stances, and populist positions have clearly resonated with voters. He’s won three states (New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada) and finished second in Iowa. If current poll numbers are accurate, he’s easily going to win most of the states on Super Tuesday.

Unless Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz get together before, say, March 1 — and bring John Kasich and Ben Carson along for the ride — this contest could almost be mathematically over within a few weeks’ time. (Just a thought, gentlemen.)

Win or lose, the brash billionaire businessman has certainly had a huge impact on modern-day American politics. In fact, his tactics could ultimately be emulated by like-minded political candidates down the road. Here’s something I firmly believe will survive well past Trump’s candidacy.

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Trump has thrown out the traditional political playbook so many times on the campaign trail, it could make your head spin. At the same time, he has used ideas, concepts, and lines (both written and speaking) that are completely foreign to most political strategists, communicators, and speechwriters.

Here’s a small sampling of Trumpisms that we’ve had to endure the past few months:

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. [rally in Charleston, S.C., December]

Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president? [comment about Carly Fiorina to Rolling Stone, September]

@FoxNews you should be ashamed of yourself. I got you the highest debate ratings in your history & you say nothing but bad . . . [tweet at @realDonaldTrump, August 7, 2015]

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting. [speech announcing his candidacy, June 2015]

You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her . . . wherever. [description of Fox News host Megyn Kelly during a CNN interview, August 2015]

I love the poorly educated. [victory speech in Nevada, February]

Mitt Romney, who was one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics, is now pushing me on tax returns. Dope! [tweet at @realDonaldTrump, February 25, 2016]

I’ve been a wordsmith for more than 20 years. I’ve crafted speeches for a national leader (former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper). And, to be perfectly honest, I’ve been amazed at how Trump makes these outrageous comments, steps on land mines on a near-daily basis that would destroy most political candidates, yet comes out looking as fresh as a daisy.

In the past, political leaders and candidates would never dare to order these sorts of lines for a speech, interview, or town-hall meeting. Even if they privately held similar views to Trump’s, they would know better than to say them in public. The potential repercussions for a particular election, and a political career, would have been devastating. So how has Trump been able to get away with it on a regular basis?

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It would be easy to simply dismiss this strategy as one that could succeed only with an enigma like Trump. It would be equally easy to claim that his strategy has worked in this election cycle only because many voters crave something different.

Wrong on both counts. It’s more complex than that.

#share#Trump, to his credit, has tapped into the lifelines of people from different walks of life. He attracts those who are anti-establishment or anti-government, support political outsiders, and are tired of “politics as usual” and bored with the same old presidential candidates being carted out. The numbers are larger than we ever imagined.

America has seen this brand of crazy before. What Trump is doing, however, is successfully turning crazy into a political dark art.

Meanwhile, Trump’s fierce opposition to political correctness, while admirable, has continually pushed the boundaries of good taste when making personal and political attacks against individuals and groups. In addition, his rhetoric against ISIS, China, Russia, border security, and illegal immigration definitely tells it like it is (in his warped mind, anyway) but is short on some important things, such as facts.

The Donald can steal powerful lines from Ronald Reagan (“Make America Great Again”), and try to top George W. Bush when dealing with terrorism (“I’m the worst thing that ever happened to ISIS”), all that he wants. But his political messaging technique is primarily based on disdain, anger, frustration, and negativity.

America has seen this brand of crazy before. What Trump is doing, however, is successfully turning crazy into a political dark art.

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Language, in particular, has become his magic weapon. Trump has blurred the lines between fact and fiction more than any other political candidate in recent memory. He makes offensive remarks like they’re going out of style. He acts like a bully and lashes out against his rivals. He burns down political bridges and couldn’t care less if they’re ever rebuilt.

#related#Yet, it truly resonates with people. Not because Trump is a showman or has a bombastic personality, but because a tough, unscripted, “devil may care” attitude is something a significant number of Americans now believe can be the mark of real leadership. It doesn’t mean that individuals running on this platform will always win, but the likelihood of winning has increased multifold.

Trump has trumped conventional wisdom and turned American politics on its head. If he wins the GOP nomination and becomes — God help us — the next president, it could mark the end of traditional political methods. The dawn of the nasty, brutish, and shallow politician of the 21st century could be upon us.

That’s why it’s important for U.S. conservatives to stop kidding themselves that Trump’s success is just a massive, one-off fluke. It’s not, and others will surely try to replicate this political formula. If Trumpism ever supplants conservatism, the GOP’s future could be in dire straits.


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