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Commentary: Who's To Blame For 'The Donald'?

Donald Trump speaking to a rally after winning the New Hampshire primary in February. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Donald Trump speaking to a rally after winning the New Hampshire primary in February. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
This article is more than 3 years old.

If you are convinced that Donald J. Trump is a great candidate who would make a great president, and would “make America great again,” you probably did not read past the headline.

But if you are one of the 67 percent of voters who have an unfavorable view of The Donald, perhaps the prospect of his winning the Republican nomination has you wondering: “Have we become a 'dumbocracy'? How did this happen?”

There is a lot of blame to go around. The rise of a narcissistic, deceitful demagogue isn’t possible without a lot of enabling.

On Twitter there was this partial list of blame from a conservative editor:


The blame naming has been underway for months. Let’s review the usual and unusual suspects, starting with those named in the tweet.

Republican Establishment

Yes, many Republicans have felt betrayed about the GOP controlled Congress. They don’t feel that these “insiders” have tried hard enough to fulfill their 2014 promises — especially the pledge to repeal ObamaCare. Many Trump fans are so angry about “the Republican establishment” they don’t care that President Obama has vetoed many Republican bills and will continue to do so. They’re not interested in the Constitution’s design of checks and balances — they want a president who will act unilaterally (like they didn’t want Obama to do on various executive actions). They like Trump’s authoritarian style (some argue it’s a fascist appeal, but let’s just call it demagogic).

Neocons

Trump has advocated a more isolationist foreign policy. He even went so far as to echo the far-left in accusing former President George W. Bush of lying to get congressional authorization to invade Iraq — before backpedaling after making the claim. But Trump has flip-flopped on many military and foreign policy issues (most recently on torture) so it’s not as if his supporters have been swayed by his foreign policy. He’s consistently vague, if not incoherent, on most policy questions.

President Obama

The perception of the president as weak by many conservatives contributed to the appeal of Trump as supposedly the opposite, a “strongman.” His boastfulness and simple-minded declarations — “I will build a great, great wall. And I will have Mexico will pay for that wall.” — appealed to people wanting America to be feared as a superpower. Trump’s spokesperson, who is as Trumpian as the candidate himself, explained that the candidate's ignorance of our “aging nuclear triad” didn’t really matter. She said, “What good does it do to have a good nuclear triad if you’re afraid to use it?

Trump Supporters

Trump wouldn’t be the front-runner without such a loyal fan base. Their loyalty to The Donald can seem blind. If you’ve talked with many Trump supporters you probably discovered that they are not interested in contrary evidence. For example, they believe Trump when he says he runs ahead of Hillary Clinton in polls and it would be easy for him to beat her; and they enjoy his citing polls constantly. But if you offer proof that Trump is the one that Clinton beats most soundly in polls, they won’t believe such polling … and they may well insult you.

TV Networks

If you watched Trump’s press conference after the Michigan primary results, you might have been surprised that his half-hour “infomercial” was carried in its entirety by CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. But if you were surprised, you must not have been following campaign coverage ever since Trump entered the race. He’s received more free air time than the other candidates combined. And that largely explains why this reality TV star has changed the reality of presidential campaigning. It’s not just the staggering amount of time, it’s also the pro-Trump bias. In some cases it is blatant promotion of the candidate, like with Joe Scarborough on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, and many Fox News TV hosts who call Trump “my friend,” like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. And there has even been a pro-Trump bias with many non-conservatives in the media who: a) couldn’t resist the charms of this “entertaining” candidate; b) figured he was doomed anyway — if not in the primaries, certainly in a general election; and c) prodded by network executives to keep this phenomenon alive because it was great for ratings and ad revenue. The president of CBS, Leslie Moonves, was quite candid about the latter point when he said, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Opponents

Trump was lucky to have GOP opponents who were so reluctant to attack him or so inept or tardy in doing so. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz finally put him on the defensive in the last two debates, but in the earlier debates, no, not really. And Jeb Bush and his super PAC spent huge sums to attack candidates other than the front-runner. It’s no wonder that Trump treated Bush with such contempt; he saw him not just as “low-energy,” but ineffectual. And it’s not only Trump’s fellow candidates who failed to make the case against him, few GOP leaders spoke out forcefully, including our popular Republican governor, Charlie Baker, who only recently disavowed Trump.

Donald Trump

Is it unfair to blame a narcissist for being boastful? Is it unfair to blame a chronic exaggerator for misleading people? Ultimately it is the candidate himself who should be held responsible for appealing to people’s hate and fears, telling falsehoods and not having the curiosity or sense of duty to learn more about the issues. Unfortunately, if the ugliness and stupidity of this race makes a mockery of “self-government,” and if Trump wins the presidency, blaming him won’t be very satisfying. After all, it’s not as if he has enough self-awareness or humility to feel shame for his conduct. If he had, would he be bragging that he is “very principled” and “a great Christian”?

However, to end on a positive note, if Trump ends up losing he will blame everyone else. “That I can tell you, believe me!”

Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst and a regular contributor to WBUR Politicker.

Todd Domke Twitter Republican Political Analyst
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.

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