© Josh Sager – September 2015
According to Frank Luntz—a long-time political pollster employed by the right wing—Donald Trump has become the political equivalent to an indestructible movie monster. No matter what is thrown at him, he just keeps driving forward on his path of destruction. In the eyes of Trump’s supporters, there is simply nothing that he can do that is disqualifyingly offensive.
Frank Luntz found out just how resilient Trump is among his supporters when he convened a focus group of current Trump voters and tried to shake their support for Trump. These voters were presented with a variety of arguments against Trump’s candidacy, including his racist and sexist quotes, history of going bankrupt, and even his past friendship with the Clintons and support for liberal policies. Defying the common-sense assumptions, none of these arguments left a dent in Trump’s candidacy and his supporters remained resolutely in his favor.
After finishing his focus group, Luntz went as far as to say that “nothing disqualifies Trump” and that “This is real. I’m having trouble processing it. Like, my legs are shaking.”
If this focus group is to be believed, anything less than Trump walking out onto the GOP’s 2nd debate stage in full Nazi uniform and reciting Muslim prayers, then trying to bludgeon Jeb Bush with copy of Da Kapital in his right hand and a fetus that he personally aborted in his left, is unlikely to alienate him to the base (even then, this focus group suggests that they might just see him as an anti-establishment maverick).
Personally, I have massive respect for Frank Luntz and his skills at political wordsmithing and gauging the correct way to manipulating imbeciles in any given situation. This isn’t to say that I like Luntz or find his brand of political work honorable—in fact, my respect for him is similar to how a doctor has a healthy respect for smallpox or ebola. You can thank Luntz for many of the most famous modern GOP talking points, including the accusation that the ACA is a “government takeover of healthcare” and the rebranding of the estate tax as the “death tax.” He was also instrumental in the creation of the Gingrich-era “Contract with America” and much of the messaging that the Bush administration used during its campaigns.
Because of his extremely strong track record and history of being able to find the exact message that resonates with the lizard brain of the right wing voter, when Luntz finds that Trump is essentially indestructible with the base, I am disposed to listen. Trump is a very skilled salesman and possesses a complete lack of shame, coupled with extreme bravado—this makes him a very attractive candidate for a certain type of authoritarian personality (people who will follow the most assertive person in the room), as well as racists who consider Trump the person who says what everybody thinks but is afraid to admit to. As these individuals make up the core of the GOP base, it makes logical sense that he has gained such a robust level of support.
While Trump may be Teflon-coated with the base, nobody really believes that Trump will actually win the nomination. Trump’s core supporters will not abandon him, but he is doomed because the party elite do not want him to win and will use their power to derail his candidacy once they align behind a frontrunner (likely Jeb or Walker). This will happen because of three simple reasons.
First, Trump is too crazy, cartoonish, and unstable for the party elite to really get behind him in a serious way.
Second, Trump refuses to speak in dog-whistle and says blatantly racist and sexist things on a regular basis. The elite prefer a candidate who hides their bigotry behind platitudes and coded language, if only because it allows the elite to support them openly.
Third, Trump’s campaign is self-financed, thus isn’t beholden to the same economic interests that hold the purse-strings of the other candidates’ campaigns. This makes him unpredictable and hard for the elite to control.
While Trump’s candidacy is doomed due to these three factors, it is extremely dangerous for our nation. His resilient candidacy in the face of his extreme views has pulled his opposition so far to the right that they are bordering on fascism (corporatism mixed with extreme ethnocentrism and nationalism). The other candidates on the stage are emulating Trump (and even signing onto some of his extreme policies) in a desperate race to get attention. If one of these candidates is able to beat the eventual Democratic nominee (while I would love to see this be Sanders, Clinton is still the most likely), I fear what our nation would look like after even four years.