What They Never Understood About Trump
The Washington Times
May 4, 2016
In winning the Republican nomination on Tuesday night, Donald Trump accomplished something that virtually no one believed possible when he entered the race nearly one year ago, on June 16, 2015.
It is striking that intelligent, seasoned observers failed completely to grasp what they were witnessing, even as Trump shot to the top of the polls and drew gigantic crowds at rallies across the country.
“Our emphatic prediction is simply that Trump will not win the nomination,” Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight wrote in August. “It’s not even clear that he’s trying to do so.”
“In my view…he won’t take this all the way to the ballot in Iowa, New Hampshire, or any of the Republican caucus or primary elections,” Stuart Stevens, the chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, wrote the same month. “Why? Because he’s Donald Trump and everything we know about him tells us he won’t do it….Donald Trump is going to put himself through a year of this meat grinder? Please. That’s absurd.”
The elites’ refusal to grapple with the reality before their eyes continued long after it was obvious Trump was no passing phenomenon. They resorted to increasingly implausible rationalizations to explain his success.
“In nearly every election cycle, there are candidates who lead national polls and sometimes even win states, but don’t come close to winning the nomination,” explained Nate Cohen of the New York Times in December. “It would be tough for Mr. Trump to prevail in a one-on-one contest against a typical mainstream Republican, much in the same way that Mr. Buchanan quickly faltered against Mr. Dole.”
Why, since Trump defined the race from the day he announced, did almost no one in the media and political elite believe that he could win the nomination–even long after it became clear he was dominating the field? What was it they failed to recognize?
The answer is simple. It wasn’t Trump that the media and political elites failed to understand. It was the American people.
The American people were dramatically more fed up with Washington–with the incompetence, the arrogance, the corruption, and the failure–than Washington could begin to understand.
Americans increasingly saw that normal politicians on both sides of the aisle could at best only manage the decline. The country was concluding that real change would require real change: someone who was different enough and daring enough to force genuine reforms. And over the course of the campaign, more and more Americans came to believe that only a personality as bold and revolutionary as Trump could, in fact, make America great again.
The elites could not (and still cannot) understand this appeal because they do not recognize the problem–namely, themselves.
For the same reason, they didn’t understand it when every single candidate with a traditional political message failed to gain traction. Nor did they understand the appeal of Trump’s greatest rival for the nomination, Ted Cruz, whose message was “defeat the Washington Cartel.” “Washington Cartel?” they wondered. “What is he talking about?”
And of course they didn’t get it. If the media and political elites had enough self-awareness to fully grasp why the American people might support Trump, Cruz–or for that matter, Sanders–the vacuum for these candidates might not have existed in the first place.
Trump’s skill and personality enabled him to become a serious candidate. But it was the American people’s desire for fundamental reform that propelled him to the nomination. It will now be up to Trump to expand on the base he built in the primary to earn the support of every American who believes we need fundamental reforms, and that the risks of predictable decline are greater than those of unpredictable renewal.
As you hear many of the same people who said Trump could never be nominated prognosticate about his chances in the general election, ask yourself: have they learned enough about the American people to understand why a political revolution could seem the safer route? If not, they still don’t get it.