A person with no governing experience and bigoted rhetoric should be a fringe candidate. Right?
When Donald Trump emerged as the umpteenth candidate from the proverbial Republican clown car of presidential hopefuls, few people took him seriously. After all, this was the same guy who questioned Barack Obama’s United States citizenship.
Say what you will about the other candidates—and there is plenty to say—but the majority of them have some experience at governing and policy-making.
Trump has none.
His candidacy announcement was littered with the sort of chest thumping rhetoric more aptly reserved for the local watering hole than an event garnering international media attention. But when a majority of people feel like the country needs to be taken back (From what? And whom?), candidates like Trump get a second look.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump boomed during his speech. “They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
As Latino political power grows, it runs counter to conventional wisdom to insult a group of people with the ability to make candidates pay at the ballot box. Whether Trump comes close to sniffing the nomination or not is unknown; what we know, is that his message is resonating. Early polls have Trump at the top of the crowded pack. He’s found a sea of supporters to turn out to events in Las Vegas and Phoenix. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, considering both cities have wrestled with immigration policies for years.
Donald Trump’s rise in presidential politics represents an inconvenient truth for a Republican Party with an overwhelmingly white face in an overwhelmingly brown world: That unapologetic bigotry reaches far across the party landscape. The Donald is not an anomaly or a fringe candidate. He’s in the top tier of candidates.
He’s found support among the likes of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz who called himself a “big fan,” while former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer says Trump is merely “telling it like it really, truly is.” Whatever one thinks of Cruz and Brewer’s remarks, both have won statewide elections, suggesting that Trump’s bigoted and reckless bravado plays well somewhere.
This isn’t about a broader, and necessary, conversation on immigration, it’s about the way we treat those deemed “not like us.” When a man can disparage an entire group of people as criminals and rapists and be rewarded for it with high poll numbers, what does that say about the country? Michael Cohen, spokesperson for the Trump’s campaign believes, “Donald Trump is actually the voice of the silent majority, and I think he’s awoken that silent majority.”
A party of true inclusion would simply not stand for such speech from a candidate it is now forced to take seriously. Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus allegedly told Trump to, “tone it down.” (a story Trump refuted). A request to “tone it down” is not a rebuke. It is not a condemnation in even the most tepid sense of the word. It is tacit, if not explicit approval. That Trump was able to avoid widespread condemnation for blatant bigotry, but was immediately smacked down for mocking John McCain’s military service speaks volumes.
Donald Trump’s diatribe against Latinos rips the bandage off a wounded GOP brand when it comes to relating to people of color. In a country that loves to peg itself as a bastion of equality and where being labeled a racist can destroy a person’s life, Trump’s prejudiced grandstanding proves problematic for more than just the Republican Party.
It’s unlikely that Trump speaks for the majority of Americans, but he does, in this moment, speak for a majority of polled Republicans. In this moment, Trump is their champion. And in this moment, the champion commands our attention if for no other reason than somebody likes what he has to say.
All signs point to The Donald doing what The Donald does best: bowing out when things get serious. Trump may not be a serious candidate, but in this moment, he’s playing one on TV. And that’s the danger of political theater. When the rubber meets the road, the country needs serious leaders with serious solutions. When Trump decides running for office isn’t fun anymore, he’ll go back to something more lucrative and less-attention seeking for a time.
As for the rest of America, we’ll be left with the fallout from Trump’s words and deeds. The scary part is not that Donald Trump, a man with a history of offensive statements, has been offensive.
It’s that he’s given voice to a group of people who thrive on poisoning the well of civil discourse.
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr