It wouldn’t be a stretch to consider the 2016 election cycle as being defined by Donald Trump. The real estate mogul has consistently stolen the spotlight from candidates of both parties during the election season thus far, and it doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. With racially charged remarks like calling some Mexicans “rapists” and calling for a temporary halt to Muslim immigration regardless of origin, many voters from both sides are condemning his words. While his remarks are certainly deplorable, the fact that his poll numbers are around the 40% mark means that he is simply doing his job as a politician: getting elected. The fact that his poll numbers are so high despite these remarks are an indictment of the public, not of Trump.
This is demonstrated by a recent poll in which 65% of likely Republican voters back Trump’s proposal to temporarily suspend Muslim immigration into the United States. Looking at that kind of majority, Trump’s statement makes perfect political sense. Thus, the outrage should not be at him, but at the Republican voting base who share these sentiments, in addition to some working-class Democrats who could swing to Trump much as Reagan Democrats did in 1980.
My views of Trump have been shaped considerably by another presidential contender. During spring break in 2010, I had the privilege of meeting Rand Paul with a group of pro-liberty youth. In a Q&A session, I asked him why he opposed cutting defense spending, a statement he had recently made at the time. He replied that he would support cutting the rest of the budget to reduce spending, but leave defense spending the same. A few months later, however, he reversed this position and said he would support cutting defense spending. The difference was in the first case, he was in a Republican primary, whereas in the second he was in a general election where he was not forced to the political right.
Likewise, Trump’s historical policy stances suggest that he does not actually believe all of what he says. While he continues to remain to the left of the Republican Party on some issues, most notably single-payer health care and cutting taxes on the rich, he has changed some of his stances to garner support from the Republican base, such as on abortion.
There has been speculation that Trump is simply running to help Hillary Clinton become the nominee. This idea is justified based on Trump’s past, where he has contributed to Democrats and even had the Clintons at his wedding. Many also believe that his outlandish statements are meant to embarrass the GOP. If this was the case, his poll numbers should be low, reflecting the shunning of Trump by the Republican electorate. Yet just the opposite has happened.
The notion that Trump might become a force in the Republican Party explains Ted Cruz’s reluctance to attack him, and the two have been alternating for the lead in recent Iowa polls. While other candidates like Scott Walker have seen their poll numbers plummet after attacking Trump, Cruz’s warmer approach to Trump has helped him stay competitive. Even with Cruz’s recent surge in the polls and remarks against Trump at a fundraiser, the two remained cordial at the final GOP debate. Trump also reiterated at that debate that Cruz would be his VP pick, which could attract Cruz supporters and even make Trump more palatable to the libertarian wing of the Republican Party with Cruz’s “libertarian” bona fides.
Those who are outraged about Trump, whether they are Democrats who oppose his bigoted rhetoric, or Republicans who see him as a wolf in sheep’s clothing and a boon to Hillary Clinton, will be wise to heed the words of George Carlin. In his monologue The American Public, he observed, “If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to get selfish, ignorant leaders.” He followed it up with the dry quip, “The public sucks.” Perhaps Trump’s popularity is proof of both.
As a result, it’s not Trump and other politicians that we should be outraged at, but ourselves. Just as one must remove the roots of weeds in order to prevent them from growing back, one must also instill in others a sense of respect for the liberties of all, regardless of race, religion, or other common identity. This bigotry among the public is the root that allows the weeds of bad elected officials to grow. As millennials, it’s on us to focus on the roots that will lead to the growth of a better America.