WASHINGTON — It couldn’t happen to a nicer party.
The Republican Party lost its compass in another century when Newt Gingrich ruled the House. Now Donald Trump just crashed the party, breaking glass in a brazen takeover. He exposed how utterly empty the establishment is on the inside.
The populist conqueror is all but certain to be the Republican Party presidential nominee. Trump hasn’t entered our capital city like victorious Julius Caesar returning to Rome — yet. Recall the Roman Empire poet’s satire about giving people “bread and circuses”? Some say our democracy is winding down that wrong way, like the descent from the Roman Republic to the decadent Empire. History has a way with rhymes.
Let’s not give up that easy. The Democratic Party is likely to field the perfectly polished insider, former first lady, senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton, to counter the unconventional brash outsider, Trump. She’ll command staunch party loyalty, and he’ll attract the ardent support of the disaffected.
The Clinton team, including the winning 42nd president, must arm her with every scrap of sass, smarts and strategy to beat Trump. Let her outwit him by playing the “woman card,” her historic quest, before he beats it down to death. Shrewdly, Trump is attacking Clinton’s strength among women first. Even if she’s ahead, she should run like she’s behind. A signature trait, self-possession, will be tested like (hardly) ever before. Her brave front during President Clinton’s 1999 impeachment may be seen as a warmup to this.
Clearly, Trump is a gathering storm out in an angry world where fakery is in, and substance is out. In a land where plenty seems scarce, he speaks to a sense of dispossession in white working-class men. The “common touch” plays well on the air, the battleground of 2016. So it’s sheer folly to underestimate the ferocious New York mogul.
The best and brightest pundits are eating crow. E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post: “I was dead wrong as a pundit, carried away by my confidence that … Americans would see through Trump.” In The New York Times, columnist David Brooks offered a meek mea culpa. Thanks so much.
Trump has confounded the “experts” long enough. How he beat 16 Republican contenders in a virtual reality show — one ousted every week — is not hard. It’s schoolyard simple: He’s the ruthless bully who never runs out of taunts, loves to outrage and refuses to follow the rules of tradition and decency. He came in swinging, with nothing to lose; now he has everything to win.
Consider his fateful remark that Jeb Bush is “low energy.” That stuck him right from the start, like an Iowa pig. The apparent heir was, in fact, lackluster. Senator Marco Rubio is slight, hence “Little Marco.” Also devastating was the nickname, “Lyin’ Ted,” for Senator Ted Cruz. They all had a grain of truth. As Politico chief columnist Roger Simon wrote, though the belittling remarks were childish, they tended to stick in the mind.
The beauty for Trump is that this gambit keeps the focus off policy, of which he knows little. The other ploy he uses, ad nauseum, is reading poll numbers to his crowds like no candidate ever has. It’s one more technique of self-aggrandizement, straight out of the boardroom of “The Apprentice,” the NBC show that brought Trump to the masses. (Thanks to you, too, NBC.)
For the first time since women voted in 1920, we are facing a tug of war, a split between the sexes, and women may save the day for the republic. For the suffragists who will be on the money in 2020, I say, play it again, Hillary. Connect our past to present and future.
As of now, the fight for the White House is on. Trump has already declared he’s going after Clinton. Waiting for the summer conventions to start campaigning is not the way of the world anymore.
The Clinton method: Never let the sun go down on an attack. I’d add an addendum: Hillary, never let the sun go down on a nickname.
The most gender-tilted election ever brags of two New Yorkers, about the same age, with enormous personal wealth. Each has strong negative ratings, and we are all in uncharted waters as we try to fathom what the American people are saying.
It couldn’t happen to a nicer country.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit Creators.com.
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Photo: Donald Trump hugs a U.S. flag as he takes the stage for a campaign town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire August 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder