An oped at the WSJ. I can’t post the whole thing for 30 days, but here are some tidbits and some extra commentary.
Incompetent Elites Make Trump Look Appealing
His supporters don’t love everything about him but are sick of being disdained and misgoverned.
Democrats and traditional Republicans are flummoxed. How are 4 in 10 of our fellow citizens ready to vote for Donald Trump? …
What motivates Trump supporters? Simple: They want their country back.
I mention Iraq, Afghanistan, and the financial crisis, all of which hit middle America hard, and from which they surmised that the foreign policy and economic elites don’t know what they’re doing. I mention official Washington’s Trump derangement, the second round of the illegitimacy wars.
In 2020 Covid hit. Trump supporters initially went along, trusting institutions. But the pandemic soon exposed the politicized incompetence of the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the scientific establishment. Lockdowns destroyed lives. Officials made up rules and ramped up censorship. Inquiries about whether the virus came from a lab leak, or anything negative about masks or vaccines, became “misinformation” subject to censorship. Trump supporters saw media, tech companies and national-security bigwigs suppress the news of the Hunter Biden laptop just in time for the election.
When schools went remote, parents found out what was actually going on inside the classrooms. Teachers were coaching students to hate themselves, their country and their religious traditions and sexualizing young children. The FBI treated angry parents as domestic terrorists. After Oct. 7, Trump supporters learned that universities are incompetent and politicized and disdain people like them. They saw that once-trusted mainstream-media outlets had become political advocates long ago.
Voters see the chaos of a dysfunctional immigration system spill into their neighborhoods. They see crime overwhelming and shutting down cities where officials refuse to enforce laws. They see the homeless invading public spaces.
They aren’t proud of Mr. Trump’s actions after the 2020 election. But 91 felony counts, some brought by prosecutors who campaigned on a promise to get Mr. Trump, and most unrelated to the election? Bonnie and Clyde didn’t have this much legal trouble! And now disqualifying Mr. Trump from the ballot? “Destroy democracy to save democracy” is no longer a joke. The existence of the deep state seems to be confirmed with every outrage….
This election isn’t about employment, spending promises or 12-point policy plans. Voters everywhere want the basic institutions of American society and government to return to a semblance of apolitical competence.
A little advice at the end:
What should Nikki Haley do? Show that she understands this deep frustration. Explain how she will fix the country’s institutions and why Mr. Trump won’t or can’t.
Haley has not been very articulate about voicing these sorts of concerns or specific about what she stands for.
I also have some advice Democrats. The latter, particularly,
Stop falling into the obvious trap. Mr. Trump is gifted at provoking ridiculous overreaction from his opponents.
Bret Stephens wrote a similar column at the New York Times. Though he had to say over and over how awful he thinks Trump is, and would never never support him — some things are unsayable at the Times — he nonetheless channeled some of the same feelings so effectively one begins to wonder. He’s also a much better writer, and the Times gave him more than the 900 word Haikus I write for WSJ.
The whole thing is good reading but here are some of the best bits.
Too many people, especially progressives, fail to think deeply about the enduring sources of his appeal — and to do so without calling him names, or disparaging his supporters, or attributing his resurgence to nefarious foreign actors or the unfairness of the Electoral College….
Trump got three big things right …
Arguably the single most important geopolitical fact of the century is the mass migration …. Trump understood this from the start of his presidential candidacy in 2015, ..
It said something about the self-deluded state of Western politics when Trump came on the scene that his assertion of the obvious was treated as a moral scandal… To millions of other Americans, his message, however crudely he may have expressed it, sounded like plain common sense.
The second big thing Trump got right was about the broad direction of the country. …
Finally, there’s the question of institutions that are supposed to represent impartial expertise, from elite universities and media to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the F.B.I. … those institutions did their own work in squandering, through partisanship or incompetence, the esteem in which they had once been widely held.
…. Much of the elite media, mostly liberal, became openly partisan in the 2016 election … Academia… became increasingly illiberal, inhospitable not just to conservatives but to anyone pushing back even modestly against progressive orthodoxy. The F.B.I. abused its authority with dubious investigations and salacious leaks that led to sensational headlines but not to criminal prosecutions, much less convictions. The C.D.C. and other public-health bureaucracies flubbed the pandemic reaction, …
Trump and his supporters called all this out. For this they were called idiots, liars and bigots by people who think of themselves as enlightened and empathetic and hold the commanding heights in the national culture. ..
In 2016, Trump was frequently compared to Benito Mussolini and other dictators…. The comparison might have proved more persuasive if Trump’s presidency had been replete with jailed and assassinated political opponents, rigged or canceled elections, a muzzled or captured press — and Trump still holding office today, rather than running to get his old job back. The election denialism is surely ugly, but it isn’t quite unique: Prominent Democrats also denied the legitimacy of George W. Bush’s two elections — the second one no less than the first.
…warnings from Biden and others about the risk Trump poses to democracy are likely to fall flat even with many moderate voters. If there’s any serious threat to democracy, doesn’t it also come from Democratic judges and state officials who are using never-before-used legal theories… to try to kick Trump’s name off ballots in Maine and Colorado?
brokenness has become the defining feature of much of American life: broken families, broken public schools, broken small towns and inner cities, broken universities, broken health care, broken media, broken churches, broken borders, broken government.
…if Republican voters think the central problem in America today is obnoxious progressives, then how better to spite them than by shoving Trump down their throats for another four years?
…I don’t see Trump’s opponents making headway against him until they at least acknowledge the legitimacy and power of the fundamental complaint. If you’re saying it’s “morning in America” when 77 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, you’re preaching to the wrong choir — and the wrong country.
Trump’s opponents say this is the most important election of our lifetime. Isn’t it time, then, to take our heads out of the sand?
You can’t defeat what you don’t understand.
Trump’s opponents also need to take a deep breath, and recognize that Trump is the best politician in the country. How can I say such an outrageous thing? Think about it. Nobody else in a century and a half has come back from losing an election. Did you possibly imagine on Dec 6 2021 that Trump would be back, and ahead in the polls? I thought when he started on the stolen election business in November 2020 that he was finished. I was absolutely wrong. I am not saying anything here about Trump as a leader or president. John Bolton could be right in his scathing criticism. His admirers could be right. But the politician’s first job is to get elected.
What are his talents? First, he listened. He won in 2016 because he heard applause at rallies over China and Immigrants, and went with what people cared about. (Casey Mulligan’s very interesting book offers many insights of this sort.) Us technocrats may complain that tariffs are bad and well-integrated immigrants good, but the question is about how you get elected.
Second, as I said, he is superb at doing things just outrageous enough to provoke Democrats to overreact, but just short of the line that even his supporters would have to admit he went too far. He gets the democrats to reveal they’re not so fond of democracy — in its old fashioned meaning that voters get to choose leaders even if they choose ones you don’t like. Every new flimsy indictment raises Trump in the polls. Getting the other side to over react is a time honored strategy, but it takes a lot of skill.
Third, I only recently appreciated how Trump has taken control of the Republican Party. The New York Times reported in depth on how he got practically everyone to endorse him, early on. The tone of the piece was, of course, how scandalous and awful this is, and how weak and craven the endorsing politicians are. But as I read it, with slightly different tone this could be Robert Caro writing about Lyndon Johnson and how Johnson similarly cajoled, demeaned and threatened people in to doing what he wanted. Johnson was a great politician, no matter what you think of his policies.
How Trump Has Used Fear and Favor to Win Republican Endorsements
The former president keeps careful watch over his endorsements from elected Republicans, aided by a disciplined and methodical behind-the-scenes operation.
…Mr. Trump has obsessed over his scorecard of endorsers,
Mr. Trump works his endorsements through both fear and favor, happily cajoling fellow politicians by phone while firing off ominous social media posts about those who don’t fall in line quickly enough…
Since 2017, Mr. Trump has invested hundreds of hours in his political relationships, repeatedly using the trappings of the presidency to do so. He is constantly on the phone to Republican lawmakers. He invites them to dinner at his clubs, for rounds of golf and for flights on his jet.
Yes. That’s what politicians do.
I was struck by the contrast in a later and eerily parallel Times article about Nikki Haley:
Why Nikki Haley Has So Few Friends Left in South Carolina Politics
Nikki Haley could use some help rescuing her campaign. But Republicans in her home state are flocking to Donald J. Trump.
The stories pile up one after another, of thanks not offered, allies antagonized, opponents not forgiven — a portrait of a politician who climbed the ladder with speed and skill but failed to ensure that the people who helped her would have her back if she needed them.
If Haley is not doing well, this could be why. It’s not all about media, social or legacy, even today. People matter. Politics matters.
Listen to his supporters, and don’t fall in to the trap of underestimating his political ability.