Tampa Bay Times (Opinion-Florida)
By George LeMieux
March 2, 2016
Houston, we have a problem.
If you are a Republican who supported candidates like Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney, this presidential election is a bit shocking. Donald Trump has won 10 of the first 15 contests. He has won in the Northeast, South and West, and he is now the prohibitive frontrunner to win the nomination. Recent polls show him leading in Florida by 20 points over Sen. Marco Rubio.
On first blush, Trump's campaign appears without historical precedent. While we have had protest candidates before — Huey Long, George Wallace — they were ideologically driven and ran from positions inside the government. Ross Perot ran as an outsider, but his campaign was focused on two issues, NAFTA and the federal debt.
Trump is different. His collection of positions, some newly manufactured, are ideologically scattered. He supports Planned Parenthood, seemingly favors universal health care, and has supported in the past the legality of late-term abortions and the desirability of massive tax increases. At the same time, he wants to prohibit Muslims from entering the country, build a "beautiful" thousand-mile wall on the border to keep Mexicans out, and fight trade wars with countries like China. This odd collection of positions puts him off the political grid. He is neither a conservative nor a liberal when his positions are viewed as a whole.
Trump's campaign is not based on ideology; it is based on attitude. He is the chutzpah candidate. Americans, frustrated with a broken federal government, like Trump's brashness. They like that he is a politically incorrect truth teller, someone who will "say it like it is" and someone they believe will beat up the politicians they blame for a diminished America.
Of course, Trump has no real plans or prospects of changing Washington. Divided government with power resting in Congress, the courts and the states would prevent Trump from making radical change. The institutional problems that plague our government — career politicians from gerrymandered districts, a bloated federal bureaucracy — would remain. So would the 24-hour news cycle, never-ending campaigns and special interest cash — these would all be present the day after Donald Trump, or any other candidate, is sworn into office. And Trump has no experience in government. Running a business as a CEO is a far different skill set than working the levers of government to effectuate change. His chances for success are slim to none.
Trump's campaign of platitudes ("Let's make America great again") will greatly disappoint if put to the test, and it is here where we find our historical parallel. Which candidate for president ran on an ideologically diverse spectrum of issues ("post-partisanship"), promised to work with everyone and be transformative? Which same candidate, due to a lack of experience or perhaps even interest in governing, greatly disappointed many of those who voted for him? Who rallied the crowds like no other but failed to live up to his self-created hype?
You know the answer. Trump in some ways is the nasty version of Barack Obama. Instead of lofty rhetoric about "hope and change," Trump is the schoolyard bully insulting his way to the White House. Both are media-created candidates, and both are more celebrity than statesman.
What are Republicans to do? If the Republican Party still exists, and that is in doubt, its leaders must rise up against Trump. Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and other congressional leaders must uniformly denounce him and his campaign. Advocacy groups that care about conservative principles need to expose Trump's hypocrisy and use their financial resources to do so. Republican governors need to barnstorm their states to rally grassroots supporters against Trump and for another candidate. These efforts need to start immediately.
If Trump wins Florida, he will likely be unstoppable. At that point we will be ready to measure the Republican Party for the coffin. What is a political party without a common set of principles shared by its candidates and supporters? A party whose leaders take no role or have no say in who becomes their candidate for the highest office in the land? The party of Lincoln, Reagan and Trump?
I don't think so.
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