Donald Trump and the Politics of Never Backing Down
Ever since Donald Trump announced he was seeking the White House, his foot has rarely left his mouth. Yet voters are still enamored by him. Why?
He couldn’t make it through his announcement speech without calling Mexican immigrants rapists and vowing to build a wall that he would make Mexico pay for to keep them out. This, of course, led to business partners including NBC and Macy’s to sever ties with Trump, but that didn’t stop him.
While most candidates would realize their mistake and back down, Trump did exactly the opposite. In a way only he could, Trump went on CNN and asked anchor Don Lemon, “Who is doing the raping?” He has since declared that he “will win the Latino vote” despite his comments.
It didn’t end there. This past weekend, Trump told a group of voters in Iowa that former Republican presidential nominee and current Arizona senator John McCain is “not a war hero.” McCain is a Navy veteran who spent more than five years in a POW camp during the Vietnam war. He suffered injuries that plague him to this day. For example, he can’t comb his own hair because he can’t lift his arms to do so.
While many disagree with McCain’s politics, no one questions his heroism. Except Trump. He likes “people who weren’t captured.”
This time, however, Trump is backing off ever so slightly. Immediately after his declaration that McCain isn’t a war hero, Frank Luntz, who was interviewing him, insisted that McCain is, indeed, a hero and Trump capitulated in a most sarcastic way. He has been using this “admission” to deny in the press that he made the original statement.
Despite all of this, Trump is surging in the polls. Though most of the survey was conducted prior to his latest controversy, an ABC News/Washington Post poll has Trump in the lead at 24 percent, with Scott Walker in second place with 13 percent, and Jeb Bush within the margin of error at 12 percent.
Up until his comments against McCain on Saturday, there was very little backlash from his fellow Republican candidates. The other 14 GOP candidates had done virtually nothing to stop him.
It was only after the disparaging remarks against their former nominee that the other GOP candidates started trying to rein him in. What took so long?
From the outside, Trump’s candidacy looks like a joke. However, in a business where most candidates are polished, cautious, and say very little that isn’t focus group tested, Trump stands out. Voters have long wished for politicians who are uncensored and speak their minds. Of course, this isn’t quite what they expected.
That being said, Trump does resonate with a segment of the Republican base. His unfiltered opinions are a vocalization of a minority who believe immigrants are taking jobs and ruining this country and love that Trump isn’t afraid to tick off the establishment.
This “never give up, never surrender” mentality has permeated American politics over the last several decades. In some ways it started with Ronald Reagan. Voters loved his cowboy swagger and tell-it-like-it-is persona. Americans and the western world cheered when he told Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
George H.W. Bush was swept out of office in 1992, in part, because he compromised on a tax deal with Democrats who controlled Congress despite making a campaign pledge of “Read my lips, no new taxes.”
It took an impeachment trial for Bill Clinton to admit that he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky and lied about it under oath in a deposition.
George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have spun their reasons for going to war in Iraq over and over again to suit their needs. Cheney has never backed down that going into Iraq was the right thing to do. This denial and spin has even extended to Bush’s brother who had some difficulty with the phrase “knowing what you know now” when asked about the war. In 2004, Bush won re-election because he labeled his opponent, current Secretary of State John Kerry, a “flip–flopper” on the Iraq war.
Today, Republican lawmakers sign pledges to never raise taxes and Barack Obama is criticized when he says he “evolved” on the issue of same-sex marriage. Compromise between parties is a weakness. Congress fails to act on issues simply because Obama is for them. Gridlock is the watchword in Washington. The art of negotiation has been lost.
Trump is simply the newest, most extreme manifestation of this political animal. He doesn’t give up his position, regardless of the reality. He doesn’t surrender when people attack him. He fights back.
And he has billions of dollars to continue funding his campaign. Don’t expect an early exit.