The Donald’s jump in national polls has the news media all atwitter and Democrats positively giddy.
Most of the The Donald coverage has centered on his inflammatory (racist?) immigration statements at his campaign kickoff with commentators and Ds assuring the masses that he’s killing the GOP’s grand plan to peel away enough hispanic support in key states to overcome the Ds presidential year electoral advantages. Maybe, on the margins, this could be a concern — but the party has created enough self-inflicted damage over its’ ridiculous immigration plan (is there one?) that it’ll be years and a whole series of much smarter, comprehensive reforms (and leadership) before Hispanics will seriously consider the R message on a national scale.
No, they (media, at least) are missing the bigger ramifications of The Donald’s candidacy.
In an incredibly crowded Republican primary, The Donald immediately jumps into a seemingly “competitive” second place in the polls.
But let’s stipulate this: Donald Trump has less chance at winning the GOP nomination than George Pataki (bet you had forgotten that he was even in the race). Sure, Trump has piles of money, incredible name ID and appears to be building a far-flung and capable staff in a bunch of early states.
But he’s a buffoon — and he’ll prove it over the next six months. Dollars to donuts he gets out before Iowa caucuses (he’ll say/do something dumber than usual, his support will crater, he’ll scream at the media, probably sue a few of the other candidates for some “slanderous” affront, then return to NYC with a damaged but bankable enough brand to start peddling the name again.
So let’s consider what are the real headaches The Donald is causing to the GOP field:
1. He’s sucking all the media air from the room.
This benefits the top tier and handicaps the also-rans. With so many players in the field there is scant room for a newcomer to breakthrough when every news outlet wants airtime for Donald. It particularly benefits Bush who had a decent launch and whose Super will report $100MM+ banked in late July? Which leads to …
2. Republicans almost always fall in line. (While Democrats want to fall in love.)
Democrats want to fall in love with their candidate (see: Carter, Obama, Clinton I, etc.). They’re teasing Bernie a little because of the lefty tilt, but they love Hillary (enough). The media will want to make it interesting and will concoct some angle to make it appear that Bernie is a real threat in early states. He’s not. She wins the nomination.
Republicans almost always fall in line with whomever is supposed to win (see: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush, Dole, McCain, Bush II, Romney) — either because it’s “that guy’s turn” or is the most bankable/viable candidate that cycle. Sure, we’ll get little mini-surges from the little knowns that will throw the pundits into a spin frenzy (“Bachmann wins Iowa straw poll!”), etc. It’s just idle chatter from the politicos required to file their 450 words.
The nominee will be one of the GOP star chamber’s approved top tier: Bush, Rubio, Walker.. and maybe Kasich (though I’m not sold there’s enough there). One of those is supposed to win — so one of them will. That’s how Republicans play presidential ball.
Now this cycle is a little different that Bush III is dealing with such a damaged brand that while he’s firmly in the top tier, he’s not running away with the nomination. Bush also has to deal with the fact the GOP is going thru one of its regularly scheduled navel gazing exercises: who are we? what philosophical direction are we headed? how will we deal with rise of libertarian wing? how to reconcile surging libertarian appeal with movement conservative activists? how do we combat the Ds electoral college advantage with the silly primary system we’ve allowed to develop (that rewards the nuttiest/invites internal — but very public squabbles — that damage the brand in the general?)
But with Trump in the race, Bush is getting a HUGE bump from The Donald deflecting coverage and opportunity to the other potential top tier peeps (Rubio, in particular, has been ceding points to Trump both in early states and nationally.)
But the longer into the calendar we get, and the longer SideShow Trump is on stage, the more difficult it will be for the second/third tiers to have a chance of moving up. You better believe Bush, Rubio, Walker (and maybe someday Kasich?) are digging the carnival — at least for now. (And we haven’t even touched on how incredibly distracting The Donald will be at early debates — will make it impossible for lesser knowns to be heard AND will make the reasonable/rational (read: Bush) seem even MORE important to a normalized GOP electorate.)
But, Bush, particularly, benefits from Donald sticking around. First, it let’s Bush solidify his argument that he’s a frontrunner, message?: he can win, he’s got money — and he’s not Trump. Second, with Trump near the top, the rest of the field can’t solely focus the fire on Bush. Sure Trump will unleash the hounds against Bush. But my guess is primary GOPers hearing receiving the Trump missiles will 1. consider the source and ignore, or; 2. were already against Bush so won’t dig into his base. The result being it helps solidify Bush as the sane — and safe — candidate (regardless that, other than Christie, he may be the most moderate of the field.)
Who’s not appreciating Circue du Trump?
– Christie (no room for another phony “straight talker”/missed his opening 4 years ago)
– Jindal (still trying to understand his rationale and sell his “outsider” message)
– Paul (who had a nice start, tailed off and now can’t find room to run)
– Cruz – (too soon, too odd)
– every other third tier candidate – Perry, Fiorina, etc, etc
– any voter hoping for thoughtful, rational debate on important policy
So here’s my guess how this plays out. With Trump in the race, the field will begin to coalesce by September into the top three: Bush, Walker, Rubio with a slim chance for one break out candidate (Paul? Kasich?) joining the top + The Donald sticking around because his poll numbers will tell him to. The lower tier candidates will start firing staff as the money dries up and they’re stuck in single digits — and will start throwing haymakers in hopes of sticking around (most won’t land). Some of those haymakers will target Trump (plus some of the other top tiers.) Most will be dismissed or won’t have enough buy behind them to matter. This is when the 3-dimensional chess gets fun: (If I’m in lower tier do I attack the top candidate or someone else in top tier? If I’m in 3rd do I attack the #1 or try to take down #2? Or even #4? If I’m in 10th and fading, I’ll swing at anything (Trump may be the easiest.)
Then there will be the inevitable media feeding frenzy over some slip up or previously unreported story… real or perceived… in the fall will take down one of the big boys.
Voters will start really thinking about impending Iowa, NH, SC, etc.. and the prospect of a Trump nomination.. and leap into action. They’ll figure out that while they may not love any other remaining viable candidates (Bush, Rubio, Walker, Kasich) — they absolutely can’t have Trump represent the GOP brand. So, they’ll fall in line with one of the top tier players — just as they always do.
So, if you’re Jeb Bush you welcome the Trump crazy train — at least for now. The Bush name ID and probable money advantage gets him into the finals. And the longer he can keep the others from finding breathing room in a Trump-controlled media cycle the better.