We Don’t Have a Trump Problem, We Have a Republican Voter Problem
Ever since Donald Trump, America’s favorite windbag, declared his candidacy for president earlier this year, the media has, rightfully, focused the vast majority of its coverage on him and his many outrageous statements. Any time a candidate for president of the United States makes the kind of statements that Trump has made and continues to consistently top the polls in the Republican Party’s race, that is a story worth covering. However, the media seems unwilling to take the Trump phenomenon to its natural conclusion: that Trump has flourished for such a sustained period of time is less an indictment of Donald Trump, but rather says far more about the constituents of the Republican Party.
I am confident that Trump will not be the Republican presidential nominee. There are far more competent candidates in the field, and given the many derogatory comments he has made toward Hispanics, an increasingly vital demographic, it seems highly unlikely that he will prevail. Trump’s popularity has already decreased since the CNN Republican debate, during which his sexist comments directed at Carly Fiorina backfired.
However, when Trump inevitably leaves the scene, our problem will not be solved because the remaining candidates will still be beholden to this vitriolic group of voters. Even candidates who are perceived as being more moderate, such as Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, will have to contend with these voters. In the general election, when the nominees move closer to the political center, these particular voters, who are currently so taken with Donald Trump, will be largely responsible for moving that center further to the right. A fundamental chasm has emerged in the Republican Party that splits semi-unreasonable people from completely unreasonable people and, unfortunately, the completely unreasonable voters seem to be driving the party.
Speaker John Boehner’s resignation is the most recent representation of the far right’s influence. Throughout his speakership, Boehner has continually struggled to control the more extreme elements of his party, and has now conceded defeat. To illustrate how absurd the gap between establishment Republicans and Tea Party Republicans (both very conservative) has become, Tea Partiers cheered raucously when Marco Rubio announced to them at a town hall that Boehner would be resigning. To put this in perspective, John Boehner has received a 100% conservative score from the American Conservative Union and the Conservative Club for Growth. If he isn’t conservative enough for these people, then we have a problem. As Trevor Noah recently joked on the Daily Show, if Boehner is not conservative enough for this faction of Republicans, it’s like crack telling meth that it’s not addictive enough.
Throughout the summer of Trump, stories have flowed regarding the crude and sometimes contemptible behavior of his followers. A standout moment came recently in New Hampshire when a Trump supporter exclaimed, “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American.” Trump, of course, did nothing to set the record straight because why should he? In Trump’s world, people are entitled to their own set of facts. Perhaps the most heinous event of the summer occurred when two Bostonian Trump supporters assaulted a homeless Hispanic man because, as Trump argues, all Hispanics should be deported. The man had his nose broken, suffered chest injuries, and was urinated on. Trump predictably responded by saying, “the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country, they want this country to be great again.”
That our system of government works the way it does is both a great and a terrible thing. Great, because the people with power only exercise it with the consent of the governed. Terrible, because now, more than ever, a segment of the governed advocates dogmatic and often alarming points of view that their representatives parrot in Congress.
My concern isn’t that this constituency doesn’t understand the nuances of policy issues such as immigration reform or reproductive rights or gun control (although that would be helpful), but rather that this is a group that is utterly lacking in empathy or concern for the other—for those people with whom they cannot identify. They are wholly uncurious and insistent upon maintaining a status quo within a constantly changing nation and world. This is the group of people that the Republican candidates will have to win over to become the nominee. I wish them the best of luck.