OPINION BY: John Hawkins
When you are talking about Donald Trump, you’re talking about a billionaire playboy whose name has been synonymous with wealth and success in America since the eighties, a motivational book author, a reality TV star, and the world’s most prominent tweeter. In other words, he is a unique figure and if Republicans like Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul tried to copy everything Trump is doing, they would fail miserably because they’re not Trump and they can’t do what he does and get away with it.
Yet and still, Trump will be leaving office one day and when that day comes, there will be a number of questions that the GOP will have to wrestle with. It’s a little hard to predict how some of the ideological differences between the Trump era and the years that came before it will play out at this early juncture, but there are definitely some political lessons that the entire Republican Party can learn from Trump’s presidency. For example…
1) Gaffes are only gaffes if you care: My friend Ben Howe suggested that one and it’s a lesson liberals learned long ago. It’s how Ted Kennedy survived leaving a woman to drown to death in his car, how Bill Clinton gets a pass from feminists, how people can say with a straight face that the Obama administration had “no scandals,” and how Ralph Northam (among a number of other liberals) got a pass for his blackface pictures. Trump rather famously doesn’t do apologies and goes on the offensive when he’s attacked, which is a wonderful change from the usual Republican strategy of apologizing, fretting about what the media will say, and then looking for any excuse to throw whoever is involved under the bus. If Trump had taken that approach, he would have been destroyed a 100 times over by now, so maybe other Republicans in Congress should stop reflexively eating their own every time the Washington Post or New York Times takes something out of context.
2) The elite of the party have swung too far to the establishment side: The Republican Party is a mix of country club/establishment types and grassroots, populist-friendly conservatives that loved the Tea Party. For a candidate to reach their full potential, they need to appeal to BOTH sides.
One of the big problems with candidates like Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney is that they centered their campaigns around pleasing the establishment wing of the Party while doing little to appeal to the grassroots. Consequently, all of them lost. On the other hand, even though Trump is talked about as the most diehard populist in the White House since Andrew Jackson, he has still been a business-friendly president who pushed through a large tax cut. In other words, he has done more to cater to the establishment than Bob McRomney ever did to cater to the base. Future Republican Party presidential candidates need to work much harder to please and activate the grassroots. They may not be the ones with the biggest bank accounts, but they’re the ones that being the most votes, put signs up in their yards, and create excitement about candidates.
3) The Rust Belt is in play: One of the most frustrating things about Republican presidential campaigns in the last few cycles before Trump was their insistence on sticking to states that could provide an extremely narrow potential path of victory while largely ignoring states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and their next-door neighbor Minnesota. That’s 56 winnable electoral votes that were practically just ceded to the Democrats from the get-go in the last four election cycles before Trump hit the scene. That’s the secret reason that Hillary Clinton didn’t do the type of campaigning that she should have done in those states in 2016 – because Republicans have traditionally allowed those to be “gimmie states” for Democrats. Trump didn’t make that mistake and given that he won Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin while nearly pulling it out in Minnesota, Republican presidential campaigns need to be all in when it comes to those states from here on out.
4) Willingness to fight pays off: Being combative is such an integral part of Trump’s personality, that it’s hard to imagine him not doing it at this point. Other Republican politicians that aren’t cut out of the same cloth would not be able to match Trump insult for insult or tweet for tweet. But after years of feeling like the GOP has to be begged to fight for ANYTHING conservatives believe in, it has been particularly refreshing to have someone pugnacious in office who’s willing to take a stand.
In other words, there has got to be a happy medium for the rest of the Republican Party between the old standard of, “let’s talk tough and then immediately give in” and Trump tweeting mean things about Rosie O’Donnell. For example, as someone who has been savagely critical of Mitch McConnell’s performance for a decade, the first thing “Cocaine Mitch” has done in years that made me respect him is the unapologetic way he has fought to get Trump’s judges on the bench. Imagine what Republicans could have achieved during Bush’s time in office if they hadn’t embraced John McCain’s “the worst thing that could ever happen is to get bad press from a mainstream media that hates us” mentality that caused them to constantly give in.
5) An awful lot of conventional wisdom is just wrong: With training from the time it’s young, you can convince a full-grown elephant that it is incapable of pulling a thin rope attached to a simple stake out of the ground. Over the years, the mainstream media has managed to do the same thing to the Republican Party. Time and time again, Trump has ignored conventional wisdom when he thought it didn’t make sense and for the most part, it has worked out very well on the policy side of things.
When, unlike other presidents before him, he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Middle-East didn’t explode into war. When Trump had the longest government shutdown in American history over the wall, the GOP’s poll numbers didn’t permanently fall into oblivion. After Trump pulled out of the Paris agreement, the world didn’t end. Trump’s willingness to use the bully pulpit to hammer the NFL over kneeling turned out to be a smart fight to pick. Too often in the past, Republicans in Congress have refused to do the right thing mainly because they’ve been convinced that the world is going to end if they do something a couple of dozen former cabinet members, stock market chieftains, and left-wing newspapers don’t like. Those people have never had as much power to shape opinion as people thought they did and today, they have less power than ever. Going against the conventional wisdom in Washington when it seems like the right thing to do has never made more sense than it does today.
Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BizPac Review.
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