That is the question, right?
It is easily provable that Donald Trump is not a Conservative in the vein of President Ronald Reagan. It is easily provable that Trump is not a Conservative in the vein of Sen. Ted Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina. He’s not a Libertarian, like Sen. Rand Paul. He’s not a moderate, like Sen. Marco Rubio or Governor Jeb Bush. It is easily provable that Trump is not a Conservative at all. So what is he?
Trump is a populist. He is what the times need/want him to be. If Sen. John Kerry was lambasted for flip-flopping on issues, Trump should be flambéed. Trump has been both for and against almost every single major issue over the last 15 years. Saying that he is now a Conservative Republican is a little hard to swallow, considering his history, but also considering his present positions. Trump is for a single-payer healthcare system. Trump is for increasing taxes on the wealthy. Trump says he is now pro-life, but his conversion story is patently ridiculous, and when asked who he would like to serve on the Supreme Court, he said his sister would be “phenomenal” – is anything in this guy’s inner circle not phenomenal – which suggests he’s not serious about the issue at all. Trump’s sister is a pro-abortion federal judge.
When it comes to the biggest issue for Trump, his stance on illegal-immigration, he’s waffled on that just in this election cycle, alone. Trump was propelled to the leader of the pack after coming out with a hardline stance on illegal immigration, stating he would deport roughly 12 million people. He doubled-down on that in the most recent Republican debate, by invoking Eisenhower and “Operation Wetback”:
Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower, good president, great president, people liked him. “I like Ike,” right? The expression. “I like Ike.” Moved a 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of this country, moved them just beyond the border. They came back. Moved them again beyond the border, they came back. Didn’t like it. Moved them way south. They never came back.
However, back in July, during an interview with MSNBC’s Morning Joe, he provided a different take on the issue:
“Then the other ones — and I’m a very big believer in merit system,” he said. “I have to tell you … some of these people have been here, they’ve done a good job. You know, in some cases, sadly, they’ve been living under the shadows, etc., etc. We have to do something. So whether it’s merit or whether it’s whatever, but I’m a believer in the merit system. If somebody’s been outstanding, we try and work something out.
So, which is it? Does Trump support deporting all illegal immigrants or does he support a merit-based system? Perhaps it depends on who is audience is. That is the problem with populists. They don’t have a core set of values that defines who they are. This is a character flaw that would be destructive domestically as well as in foreign relations, of which Trump seems to know little about.
Given these set of circumstances, why is it that nearly 1/3 of Republican voters are supporting Trump, according to the latest polls? The conventional wisdom is that Trump is strong and doesn’t back down. Ok, but then why is Gov. Chris Christie not doing as well? Why didn’t Gov. Scott Walker resonate with voters? Both Christie and Walker have been tested against an onslaught of liberal attacks and have maintained their principles, changed the status quo in their respective states and have real progress to show for their efforts. They also have the much-coveted, by Republican voters, Governorship attached to their resumes. And, based on his own admission, one could hardly suggest that Trump doesn’t back down. His history is replete with making backroom deals to get what he wants, even if that is simply the presence of Sen. Hillary Clinton at his wedding.
I think it is much simpler than the conventional wisdom suggests, if that is possible. Unfortunately, this theory pulls from the playbook of Democrats. I blame Rush Limbaugh. I routinely tune into the Rush Limbaugh Show for about 30 minutes a day, during lunch. Much of the time spent during that 30-minute period is either promoting his latest book, commercial breaks, or defending Donald Trump. Other candidates don’t get near the amount of time that Trump gets. In fact, I tuned in yesterday to find out that the whole entire first hour of the show was devoted to defending Trump from the latest media accusation. The takeaway from this: Rush Limbaugh supports Donald Trump for President. Now, Limbaugh will say he is simply using the Trump stories to show the bias of the media. However most, if not all, of Limbaugh’s listeners already believe in a media bias and there are plenty of avenues for people to venture down that provide that very same narrative. Illustrating media bias is nothing new.
When listeners tune in to hear Limbaugh, they are treated to unique insights provided in an entertaining way. But, it is more than that, as one caller recently put it:
CALLER: I heard you say that you’re an entertainer.
CALLER: To me, you’re also more than that—
CALLER:—and I believe you know that, and so sometimes you have to walk softly. I think once—
Most listeners believe that Limbaugh is defined by his principles. He has a core set of values that guide his life. Most of Limbaugh’s listeners identify with those principles and they feel connected through them to him; he is an extension of them. When listeners are treated to a near-constant defense of Trump, with nary the mention of anything negative, the effect is a positive view of Trump. So, when Trump does poorly in debates or interviews, or doesn’t know answers other voters expect he should know, Trump’s supporters give him a pass, because they already have a favorable opinion of him. This is why the media has been unable to destroy the base of support for Trump. It is a classic case of an anchoring bias combined with a confirmation bias. Trump’s supporters were provided with an initially positive view of him, driving an anchor into their thought process. And, when they continue to tune into Rush Limbaugh, they hear their friend and mentor, extolling the positive virtues of Trump and criticizing anything negative, confirming their initial view.
If Rush Limbaugh continues to softly persuade his listeners to support Trump, he will be the Republican nominee. If Trump is the nominee, I suspect Sen. Hillary Clinton will find herself back in the White House.