Polling data can only take you so far in evaluating the silly season of the nominating processes. Breathless media coverage aside, most voters aren’t paying attention yet. Yet we can extract some themes from the polls. Mainly, so far, Republican voters seem to be saying that they are fed up with… Republican politicians. A simple presentation of CNN’s most recent national poll demonstrates the pattern:
- People who have never won an election (Trump, Fiorina, Carson) – 54%
- People who have won an election – 39%
- Someone else/no one/no opinion – 7%
Of course, we’re nowhere near votes being cast, and it would be unprecedented if voters or caucus-goers actually gave the non-politicians over half of the vote. But the message so far is clear: Republican voters are fed up with their politicians. So much so that its most aggressively federalist governor couldn’t gain any traction this time around.
If you care about policy and substance, of all 17 Republican contenders in the 2016 campaign, Rick Perry had been the most impressive. He gave a very bold, important speech on race and the Republican Party, in which he castigated Republicans for ignoring the black vote:
Too often, we Republicans – myself included – have emphasized our message on the Tenth Amendment but not our message on the Fourteenth – an Amendment, it bears reminding, that was one of the first great contributions of the Republican Party to American life, second only to the abolition of slavery.
For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote because we found that we could win elections without it. But when we gave up on trying to win the support of African-Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln. As the party of equal opportunity for all.
He gave a very strong speech on Wall Street reform, calling for increased capital requirements for large banks and an additional chapter in the bankruptcy code to handle bankruptcies without bailouts.
And perhaps most notably, considering the Republican zeitgeist, Perry was the first candidate to slam Donald Trump.
The White House has been occupied by giants. But from time to time it is sought by the small-minded – divisive figures propelled by anger, and appealing to the worst instincts in the human condition.
In times of trouble, there are two types of leaders: repairers of the breach and sowers of discord.
The sower of discord foments agitation, thrives on division, scapegoats certain elements of society, and offers empty platitudes and promises. He is without substance when one scratches below the surface.
He offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued.
Let no one be mistaken – Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded.
He came back to the theme in his concession speech:
We need to get back to the central constitutional principle that, in America it is the content of your character that matters, not the color of your skin – that it doesn’t matter where you come from, but where you are going. In an America blind to color, that champions the individual, that recognizes merit, there is no room for debate that denigrates certain people based on their heritage or origin.
We can secure the border and reform our immigration system without inflammatory rhetoric, without base appeals that divide us based on race, culture and creed.
Let me be crystal clear: for those of us in Christ, our citizenship is first and foremost in God’s kingdom, our brothers and sisters are those made in the image of God, and our obligation – after loving God with all our heart, mind and soul – is to love our neighbors as ourselves, regardless of where they come from.
Demeaning people of Hispanic heritage is not just ignorant, it betrays the example of Christ. We can enforce our laws and our borders, and we can love all who live within our borders, without betraying our values.
It is time to elevate our debate from divisive name-calling, from soundbites without solutions, and start discussing how we will make the country better for all if a conservative is elected president.
Earlier this year, I argued that Perry was the sleeper in the Republican race. I touted his strong campaign organization, his record, and his recovered back as reasons for optimism. Some of this played out: Perry really did look like a better candidate this time around. But he was not particularly strong in the “kids’ table debate,” which was critical, where he was outshined (clearly) by Carly Fiorina.
Perry seemed to make a conscious effort to play against type this time around; instead of swaggering, he played the role of elder statesman and man of substance. And it might have worked, in a smaller field. Instead, Perry could not gain any traction. Angrier politicians Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee** seemed to fit the mood of the Republican base better than sober, glasses-wearing Rick Perry, and so much of the base is turning to non-politicians. Meanwhile, the “establishment” seems more interested in Jeb Bush and John Kasich.
If it turns out that Ben Carson or Donald Trump wins the nomination, then it will be clear that something has changed, and these early polls have captured the mood of the electorate. If, however, it turns out that Jeb Bush or John Kasich or whoever else wins the nod, it will be time to ask why the party accepts a process that weeds out good options because implausible ones suck up all of the oxygen while no one is actually paying attention.
**It is interesting that Huckabee can be described as “angry” these days, considering how affable he was in 2007. But it does seem that he has changed his presentation style, dramatically.