When Donald Trump announced his presidential bid 11 months ago, none of the political class took him or it seriously. Not any more. One by one his many competitors have been ground into the dust. Understanding how Trump has accomplished what seemed impossible, and why his ascendancy was missed by the political class is what counts.
Trump’s quest started with a good and bad omen. He had enormous name recognition, but was broadly disliked among Republicans. Last summer Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post reported that two-thirds of Republicans said they couldn’t see themselves supporting him for president. Cillizza went on to provide his readers with, “Why no one should take Donald Trump seriously, in one very simple chart.” Six weeks later Cillizza wrote, “Boy was I wrong about Donald Trump.”
What best and most humorously illuminates the universal underestimation of Trump also occurred last summer when Morning Joe regular Mike Barnicle offered to buy host Mika Brzezinski a new pickup if Trumpwon the GOP nomination. Barnicle owes Mika a truck!
As Trump’s candidacy gained steam, something else began to happen. The narrative from prominent Republican leaders and from respected conservative writers coalesced around a guessing game with respect to when, not if, the Trump bubble would burst. But to their unbelieving dismay, it did not burst. In fact Trump has gone on to win the vast majority of the primaries. He has accumulated more than 10 million votes, surpassing any Republican who has ever sought the presidential nomination.
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Once it became clear that Trump was unstoppable, the Party apparatchiks and respected conservative intellectuals began an assault on Trump that has no parallel in modern American political history. Vitriolic condemnation of Trump has come from the likes of Mitt Romney, both Bush Presidents, George Will, Charles Krauthammer and Michael Gerson.
The savage assault on Trump from within the Republican Party and from its intellectual soothsayers is deeply troubling and remarkably revealing. Troubling because it turns its back on that which is at the heart of this nation’s experiment in democracy – that voters get to determine winners and losers, not party bosses and/or elites. Revealing in that the wellspring of their fury at Trump is rooted in an inchoate fear their power and prestige is now in jeopardy.
Donald Trump is where he is today not because of his name recognition, or his media skills, or his wealth, or his brash tactics. While those qualities have helped him, the truth is that he’s won because voters see his candidacy as the vehicle for them to express their unalterable vote of no confidence in the Republican Party’s self-serving leaders. How else does one explain overwhelming voter rejection of Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker? It’s just this simple. Rank and file Republicans have called the GOP’s bluff. Donald Trump is simply their vehicle for a bloodless revolution.
More importantly, the Party bosses and their supporters in the media and academe still don’t comprehend the gravity of what’s happened or why. They believe that once Trump is defeated by Hillary Clinton, it will be back to business as usual, especially for them. Not a chance. The Republican Party leaders will either adjust to the new order that is emerging from the chaos of the past year, or they will perish. It’s called democracy.
LeRoy Goldman worked on Capitol Hill and at the National Institutes of Health. He has retired to Flat Rock and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.