Republicans shouldn't panic and shouldn't think they need to emulate The Donald. On the contrary: He's everything they should reject.
It's rare in recent Republican primaries for the eventual winner to be out in front six months before voting starts. In August 2011, Rick Perry was ahead of Romney
-- that's Perry even with his glasses off. In October, Herman Cain
was -- inexplicably -- the one to beat. In November, it was Newt Gingrich
. Traditionally, Republican voters like to shop around and look at other candidates before settling on the boring, moderate product that the party establishment wants them to pick.
Trump is the beneficiary of this flirtation with the fringe because he's the loudest, most amusing thing around. Yes, as his supporters shout loudly on Twitter, The Donald has identified one issue that voters do genuinely care about: illegal immigration. But Trump's plan is not dissimilar from everybody else's
. In other words, the substance of Trump's platform is not nearly as key to his support as his style.
The Donald makes for great viewing -- as proved by the astronomical ratings
for his debate appearance, which played out like the absolute opposite of a beauty pageant. The ugliest, funniest contestant won. In an age when politicians all sound alike and -- all sound like compromising, two-faced, middle-of-the-road hucksters -- Trump's zingers grab the attention. Yes, he is funny. His smackdown of Perry's eyeglasses was priceless. The Texan obviously wears them to look smart,
and no one's buying it.
But Republicans must stay away from the politics of Trumpism, for two reasons. First, it's not classical American conservatism. We still don't have a coherent, believable explanation of how Trump evolved from a Democrat to a Republican. People can change their minds, of course. I used to be a socialist, and now I'm anything but. Nevertheless, we need some convincing story of how The Donald journeyed so far in so short a space of time. What was his come to Jesus moment?
If his supporters aren't asking the same question, then it might be because their own conservatism is nontraditional in its priorities. I was shocked -- genuinely horrified -- when Ann Coulter tweeted:
"I don't care if @realDonaldTrump wants to perform abortions in White House after this immigration policy paper." Coulter was obviously joking, and my admiration for her writing is unchanged. But, seriously? Abortions are not comedy material for the average conservative, and if that statement reflects any truth about Coulter's priorities, then it's very troubling indeed.
Conservative Matt Lewis has argued that limiting the number of Mexicans in the country probably does matter more to Trumpites than protecting the unborn. Dissecting Trump's statements on abortion, he notes that The Donald's pro-life stance betrays a concern
that the strongest of the human race might get weeded out by mistake.
Conservatives online are torn about whether or not this sort of thinking equates to fascism. I think it's better understood as pro-business nationalism: corporatism gone nuts. The future under Trump is Skynet with bad hair.
Republicans should also not chase the votes of people attracted to this vision because it alienates a much bigger, more important voting bloc: Latinos. The 2016 presidential election will be decided in part
by the ability of the GOP to attract Latinos into its conservative coalition. They will come over if the party has a positive message about pay, jobs, education and the championing of family values. They will not come over if the eventual nominee pushes an idea as repellent as ending birthright citizenship.
Historically, the concept of birthright citizenship
was central to asserting the constitutional rights of African-Americans and freed slaves. To scrap it would be to reject decades of racial progress.
Jeb Bush has insisted
that he won't be touching the 14th Amendment -- and that's one more reason why he's ahead among orthodox Republican conservatives. As Jennifer Rubin puts it
, there are now two GOP primaries. One is among those who are "far right, rabidly anti-immigration and prone to conspiracy theories." The other is among those who actually want to beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 and put America back on the "right" track.