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“Why Are The GOP Presidential Candidates Afraid Of Donald Trump?”: Living In Abject Fear Of The Biting Family Dog

Donald Trump now seems to be leading the GOP presidential field, and even if no one expects that situation to be permanent, most sentient Republicans agree that it’s terrible for the party. Apart from making the party look bad with his enthusiastic buffoonery, Trump finds new ways to alienate Latinos almost every day, and there is simply no way for Republicans to win the White House if they don’t improve their performance among Latino voters.

Yet the other GOP candidates can’t seem to bring themselves to utter a word of criticism toward Trump. Not only that, they’re barely criticizing each other. What’s going on here?

Let’s deal with Trump first. You might think a candidate spewing bile at the minority group the party needs most would produce some strong push-back from his opponents, but no. “I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration,” said Ted Cruz after Trump went on his diatribe about Mexican rapists and drug dealers. While Trump has attacked Marco Rubio directly, saying he’s weak on immigration, Rubio’s response has been mostly that the media is focusing on Trump to distract from the real issues. When Scott Walker got asked this week what he thinks about Trump’s inflammatory comments, he replied, “While he might have some appeal because he’s speaking out boldly on issues, I think what they really want is people who can get things done.” Settle down there, governor.

The one candidate who has criticized Trump with any sincerity is Jeb Bush. “On our side, there are people that prey on people’s fears and their angst,” he said Tuesday in Iowa. “And whether it’s Donald Trump or Barack Obama, their rhetoric of divisiveness is wrong. A Republican will never win by striking fear in people’s hearts.” OK, so lumping someone in with Barack Obama is as mean as a Republican can get, but what’s most notable about Bush’s criticism is that in a field of 17 candidates, he’s the only one making it.

So what are they all afraid of? It’s true that Trump’s popularity has spiked among Republicans since he started making his beliefs about immigrants clear: in the Post’s latest poll, 57 percent of Republicans say they have a favorable view of him, a dramatic change from a poll in late may when 65 percent of Republicans had a negative view. But would a Republican candidate who engaged in some standard campaign criticism really forever forfeit any chance of winning over a voter who likes Trump today? It’s hard to imagine he would.

I think there’s something going on here that goes beyond Trump, and beyond the issue of immigration (on which all the Republican candidates have essentially the same position). It’s been said before that Democrats hate their base while Republicans fear their base, and the second part seems to be more true now than ever. The Tea Party experience of the last six years, which helped them win off-year elections and also produced rebellions against incumbent Republicans, has left them living in abject terror of their own voters.

It’s as though the GOP got itself a vicious dog because it was having an argument with its neighbor, only to find that the dog kept biting members of its own family. And now it finds itself tiptoeing around the house, paralyzed by the fear that it might startle the dog and get a set of jaws clamped around its ankle.

While I haven’t yet seen any detailed analysis of who’s supporting Trump, it’s probably safe to assume that the typical Trump supporter is a tea partier — not just extremely conservative, but extremely angry as well, not to mention contemptuous of elected Republicans who are too timid to really tell it like it is. Kevin Williamson of the National Review recently described these voters as “captive of the populist Right’s master narrative, which is the tragic tale of the holy, holy base, the victory of which would be entirely assured if not for the machinations of the perfidious Establishment.” Like the People’s Front of Judea, they know that the real enemy is the one on their own side. It’s somewhat ironic that the response of Republican politicians to these voters’ disgust with timidity is to be inordinately timid about offending them.

It’s possible that also has something to do with why the race has been so generally well-mannered. The candidates aren’t just worried about offending Trump’s supporters, they’re worried about offending anybody on their side of the aisle. Far be it from me to demand that the race get more negative, but by now you’d think there would be barbs flying back and forth in all directions. Most of those 17 candidates (once John Kasich and Jim Gilmore formally enter) are separated by just a few points in the polls. The debates will be starting in a couple of weeks, and if only 10 candidates are allowed in each one, all but the top few candidates are in serious danger of being shut out, which could be disastrous for them. That should give them a strong incentive to do something dramatic. And yet, the race could hardly be more civil.

It’s still early, and one has to assume that once the actual voting begins (or even before), the knives will come out. But for now, things are unusually quiet. When that does change, it will only be because the candidates have found something else that scares them more than their own voters. Like losing.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, July 15, 2015

July 16, 2015 - Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans | , , , , , , , ,

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