News and social media sites have been abuzz lately with stories about an unconventional candidate for President of the United States. The candidate has surprised political pundits with his unexpectedly strong performance in the polls. At the top of his platform is illegal immigration, an issue on which he takes a strong stance, suggesting that all illegals must be deported to their country of origin. He is a political enigma, a mystery at a time when Americans are fed up with establishment candidates of all types. I’m speaking, of course, about Deez Nuts.
Mr. Nuts was polling near double digits in a series of polls conducted this August. Unfortunately for his supporters, he is too young to legally run for President. In fact, “Deez Nuts” is not even his real name (shocker.) In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone, it was revealed that Mr. Nuts’ real name is Brady Olson and that he is a 15 year old entering his sophomore year of high school. It was all a joke, a bit of satire to poke fun at the unsatisfactory “real” candidates who were seen as the initial front runners for both parties, Jeb Bush and Hilary Clinton.
Nonetheless, the candidacy of the prestigious Mr. Nuts sheds light on another political mystery this election cycle: Donald J. Trump. The two have a lot in common. No, I’m not talking about Trump’s gratuitous insults against immigrants, women, veterans, Muslims, reporters, and all of his political opponents, which make him seem like a 15 year old. I am also not talking about Trump’s astonishing lack of knowledge regarding foreign policy or public policy in general, which make it seem as if he never passed high school civics (which would be more forgivable if he were still in high school like Mr. Nuts.)
I’m talking about the politics of the outsider.
Like Donald Trump, the current second and third place candidates in national Republican polls have never before held public office: pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, respectively. Pundits have (rightfully) interpreted this trend as an expression of the public’s general dissatisfaction with the current Washington establishment, from both parties. Republican base voters in particular feel as though their party has failed them. As Senator Ted Cruz puts it, “There’s a frustration across this country. It’s not complicated to understand why. Every election Republicans promise to fight for American principles, and then the day after the election we come to Washington and we don’t fight for any of the principles we said we’d fight for.” This frustration has now manifested as anger, making 2016 an election year where “throw all the bums out” is likely to be a popular sentiment.
Much of this anger is justified, but often misplaced. A majority of American voters elected President Barack Obama along with very Conservative Republican House and Senate majorities. When the government is so divided, not only on partisan lines but also on philosophical and ideological lines, neither “side” is going to accomplish very much. This may be frustrating to partisans, but it is a feature of the American system of separated powers. Moreover, this divided government reflects a divided electorate in which citizens disagree on the proper path forward for the country. Until and unless voters restore the Country to unified party control (and maybe even a supermajority in the Senate) gridlock will prevail; voters can expect no meaningful policy changes with a high likelihood of more fiscal cliffs, credit downgrades, debt ceiling fights, and government shut downs.
The only alternative to one party rule is bi-partisan rule, which means voters will have to elect candidates who know that governing is the process of building consensus, not “holding the line” so you can grandstand on “principle.” Republicans and Democrats are both guilty of doing the latter for purely electoral reasons. Compromise is essential to governance and that means solving problems by cutting deals which no body loves, no body hates, but everyone can live with. This brings us back to the central point mentioned above: the outsider.
What do we mean when we say the public wants an “outsider?” At least three of the candidates who seem to have been branded as “insiders” now, or at least as “less outsider than Trump”, were elected as outsiders only five years ago as part of the Tea Party revolution: Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio. Does less than a full term in the Senate now make you part of the establishment, even if you spent that term fighting the establishment!? And what about the Governors running? Can you be an insider of the Washington establishment when you’ve never held office in Washington? If you can, Trump is an establishment insider too.
Donald Trump may never have held public office, but he’s been an active politico since at least the time of President Nixon. Since then, he’s been a heavy donor to politicians, mostly to Democrats but also more recently to Republicans. He is a close friend of Bill and Hilary Clinton which, along with his phone call to Bill just before launching his campaign, has even fueled speculation that his candidacy is intentionally destroying the Republican party to hand the office to Hillary. Regardless of whether there’s any truth to that conspiracy theory, these close ties mean Trump is as connected to both political establishments as anyone else running.
More importantly, shouldn’t behavior dictate our candidate evaluations more than a simple resume check? Former Congressman Ron Paul, father of candidate Rand Paul, served in Congress for more than 22 years but was always considered “anti-establishment” because he had a proven record of standing up to elites on both sides throughout his time in office. Voters should be looking for someone like the elder-Paul, who went beyond rhetoric and proved he’s willing to standup to the powerful and corrupt. Ron Paul also had something Donald Trump is sorely lacking: experience.
Of the three current front runners for the Republican nomination, only Carly Fiorina seems capable of even discussing the multitude of complex policy issues that elected officials must be able to deal with. Ben Carson is surely a brilliant neurosurgeon and Donald Trump may have his own particular brand of smarts in entertainment and self-promotion, but there are different kinds of intelligence. A political novice is no more qualified to be president than a skilled software engineer is to try and separate conjoined twins at the brain, as Ben Carson did.
In short, Republican base voters need to look for someone with a record of doing the right things, not just saying them. Rand Paul has a proven track record of standing up to the President, the NSA, war-hawks in both parties, the Federal Reserve, and fiscally irresponsible legislators on the left and right. And yet, Senator Paul also has proven record of professional decorum and bi-partisanship on issues that should unify the country, like voting rights. Marco Rubio, while more aligned with establishment Republican positions on foreign policy, criminal justice, and the Drug War, also has a record of striking a balance between principle and bi-partisanship. Ohio Governor John Kasich is the only candidate running with both executive and legislative experience and has successfully led fights to balance budgets on both the state and federal levels.
Republicans have a deep pool of qualified candidates to choose from; Donald Trump isn’t one of them. Trump’s history of flip flopping, cronyism, and offensive personal remarks make him a poor candidate for governing by consensus. A Trump presidency would make the country more divided and more gridlocked. Voters should end the downward spiral of electing politicians who lack the knowledge and experience to get things done; this only compounds the inability of the government to function the way they want it to.
Luckily, early primary polls are not very predictive of who will get the nomination. In the Fall of the 2012 Republican Primary, Herman Cain was leading with 25% of the vote; by Winter, Newt Gingrich was leading with 35%. One of the reasons the polls fail at this early stage is that most voters are still very much undecided. An average of about 60% of those polled haven’t yet picked a candidate, but pollsters prod them to give their top choice “right now.” With poll questions like that, respondents often pick the person with the most name recognition or the name they’ve heard most often in the media. Right now, Trump’s 24/7 coverage by the mainstream news give him an edge.
But when it actually comes time to cast a ballot, voters are more likely to pick a serious candidate over a reality TV star. Especially since the majority of Trump’s supporters have been shown to be low information and low engagement political novices like himself. What are the chances they actually show up en masse? Turnout, as much as anything else, decides primary elections. The professional candidates with well organized “ground games” rely on armies of volunteers and field operatives to “get out the vote.” Their followers are also more reliable voters; that means they will likely have an advantage in the actual primary.
Which brings us to the final trait Donald Trump has in common with Deez Nuts: they both have about an equal chance of actually becoming President.