Democrats are treating Donald Trump’s candidacy and his surge to the top of the polls as Christmas—or at least Election Day—in July.  The left-leaning Salon headlines Trump as “Democrats’’ greatest gift,” and prophesies that “his buffoonish politics threaten to bring down his entire party.”  The right-wing media pretty much agree: “Donald Trump Controversy Plays Right into Democrats’ Hands” reads a National Review headline.  And that was before Trump tried to rip John McCain but succeeded only in ripping himself.

Donald Trump   Photo: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Both parties assume that Trump will drive voters away from an otherwise appealing slate of candidates.  But they may have it backwards.  Trump’s fulminations may actually be good for Republicans—but bad for Democrats.

Democrats assume that every fair-minded person recoils, as they do, from Trump’s racist xenophobia and his carnival-barker persona.  They react, as they often do to adversaries whose appeal baffles them: with mocking disdain four of Letterman’s top ten “interesting facts” about Trump, for example, mocked not his policies but his hair.  But as John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for Slate magazine and political director of CBS News, has pointed out, “There is a group of Republican voters who like what Trump is saying, how he says it, and don’t mind that the political clowns are being ruffled by this party-crasher.”  To them, and to people like them, Democrats’ disdain for Trump may come across as alienating disdain for his supporters, and for those who fear or oppose illegal immigration but are embarrassed to admit it.  .

Trump’s outré campaign and persona deliver more to Republicans than votes.  Precisely because Trump is so far beyond the pale, he gives other Republicans cover to distance themselves from his headline-grabbing freak-show while adopting positions not so far from those he espouses.

So, for Republicans, Trump could be win-win.

For Democrats, not so much.

Maybe the American people will see Trump’s agenda and tone as the superficial, ill-advised and mean-spirited notions they are.  Maybe Trump’s surge in the polls is fueled not by agreement but by celebrity and will melt away as people get to know him better.  Maybe his attack on McCain will prove his undoing.

But maybe the people whose support has propelled him to the top of the polls are representative of the 44 percent of Republicans who tell Gallup that they believe he would “do a good job” on immigration, the kind of number that supports Vox.com’s conclusion that “anti-Hispanic bigotry plays well with the Republican primary electorate.”  A showing of half of that would guarantee Trump a spot in the top tier of Republican candidates, the tier that will not only make it into the debates but will mark the boundaries and of hot-button arguments over issues like immigration, not just in the primaries but after the conventions.  Let us not forget that notions and rhetoric not so unlike Trump’s were compelling enough to elect majorities in the House and Senate.  The exposure they will get from the Republican debates may attract support, not repel it.

Enough support to get Trump the presidency or the Republican nomination?  Probably not.  Enough to fuel a third-party Trump candidacy when Trump doesn’t get the Republican nomination?  Could be.

But there may be enough Trump votes to motivate Republican candidates who do have a chance to adjust their positions and rhetoric to make them plausible second choices when the Donald drops out.  But isn’t that the whole point of seemingly hopeless candidacies like Trump’s and, for that matter, Bernie Sanders?  To demonstrate enough support for their policies that the serious candidates have to make them their own, and to increase their influence in the campaign, in the administration that will follow if their party wins, and in the not-so-loyal opposition if they don’t.

So put Christmas off until December, and Election Day till primary season.  Trump will hurt his opponents.  It’s just not clear yet which ones.


  1. Eric Christenson
    July 26th, 2015 | 8:57 am

    Very interesting and a bit scary. He certainly can energize people who do not think the way we believe sane people should think. My uncle, a lifelong Indiana Republican and a WWII vet who responds to my emails, cannot understand his old party’s drift.

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