Trump’s Powerful Message Needs a Powerful Response

Over at The Corner, Jim Geraghty frames things just right:

The pivotal question about Donald Trump’s speech is, do the viewers at home listen to his description of the country’s problems – lawlessness, a growing terrorism threat on our own soil, illegal immigration, a fear that their job could be outsourced overseas – and say, ‘Yes, finally, this man gets it”? Or does Trump’s style get in the way of his powerful message?

Trump’s message is powerful, and he delivered it in a powerful way at his convention. These themes carried the day in the Republican primaries, which is worth noting especially because Trump’s solutions so often violate Republican orthodoxy. Just for today’s example, Daniel Pipes quit the Republican Party after watching Trump’s speech. Pipes’s rationale is about half based on substance and half based on Trump’s character and style. But, opposition from people like Pipes didn’t stop Trump from securing the nomination, nor did it prevent him from winning a record number of votes.

It matters that Trump now leads a fractious party, much of which simply does not have his back, and some of which will work actively to defeat him. It matters that the country’s media and intelligentsia, including most traditionally conservative media outlets, will wind up endorsing Hillary Clinton. It matters that Trump is undisciplined and inexperienced as a politician. It matters that Trump will be badly outspent.

But, in the end, the pivotal question is going to be how much his themes resonate with the American public. Trump’s wealth, celebrity and dubious claims of his dealmaking ability are components of his appeal, but he would not have gotten this far if people were not very upset about immigration and terrorism and job losses and wage stagnation.

And, yes, it’s true that violent crime is at a historically low level and that unemployment is down sharply and that Trump doesn’t have plausible or even articulated solutions to how to deal with any of the problems he describes. These are important factors that will diminish both the appeal of his candidacy and the resonance of his issues.

But, if he has any chance to win it won’t be because he suddenly becomes a better campaigner. It will be because Clinton doesn’t convince people that she’ll address their concerns with new solutions and policies.

In other words, it’s important to disqualify Trump in the minds of the public, and this really shouldn’t be that hard to do because almost every national oar will be rowing in that same direction. But, if there’s a still a risk of a Trump presidency, it’s if the response to Trump is to dismiss the validity or importance of the themes he raised in his speech last night. You can’t fact-check them away. Their appeal is only loosely connected to any factual basis, so the rebuttal to them must meet people on a more subconscious, visceral and emotional level.

No one should assume that light is equal to darkness, or that reason can prevail against fear.

Some people will be observers and critics. Others will go get their oars. But the Clinton campaign needs to understand where the boat should be headed. And they’ll need plenty of life-vests, because the water is choppy ahead.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.