I’ve lived long enough not to be surprised by much, but as soon as I uttered those words, here I sit, surprised by Donald Trump. Actually, “The Donald” hasn’t surprised me. He’s always been a bombastic bore, in my humble opinion, and he’s someone I wouldn’t want to have a beer with or anything else.
No, I’m surprised he’s gathered a following of folks who don’t realize what he’s doing. All the talk of Trump fading away has faded away. What may also be fading away are Republican hopes for a presidential victory next year. All of this at a time when Democrats have one of their weakest fields in history. I don’t know about you, but Hillary just doesn’t tickle my toes.
This is going to be hard to explain because the people who generalize based on race or some other identifier don’t realize they’re doing it and it’s the key to Trump’s success. He can get away with calling Mexicans rapists and pretending his proposal to deport 12 million illegal aliens and their American-citizen children a serious one, because that’s what a good many Republicans at this stage of the game want to hear. He can flippantly say, “They have to go,” and his crowd eats it up, thinking, “they don’t look like me anyway.” Who cares whether it’s possible? Who cares if it would violate the rights of American citizens?
Want proof? Did any of the other candidates in the multitude — other than Sen. Lindsay Graham, who said Trump’s plan was “gibberish” — call him out on it? Why? Because they didn’t want to anger the Republican base that’s been swallowing Trump’s red meat message without chewing.
And therein lies the reason for the acid indigestion for Republicans. They desperately need the Hispanic vote to win the White House, but with each passing bombastic statement by Trump, their goal gets farther away. The base following Pied Piper Trump haven’t looked at the numbers, and those who have don’t bother to comprehend. Four years ago, Mitt Romney said he wanted those in the country illegally to self-deport. Hispanic turnout for the GOP ticket hit historic lows. Now comes Trump talking about building a wall along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border and making the Mexican government pay for it and changing the 14th Amendment. While the Republican base might like his immigration message, 76 percent of independents, according to the Pew Research Center, believe the undocumented ought to be able to stay if certain conditions are met. They are joined by 80 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of — gasp — Republicans.
I realize those statistics mean nothing to those who hold a different view, even if it costs them an election, but here’s another reason rain will fall on their election parade if Trump continues much longer. There are 28 million Hispanic voters, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, and that’s 18 percent more than in 2012. More Hispanics are coming of voting age each election cycle. If Hispanics understood that the GOP didn’t have any use for them in 2012, they certainly understand Trump’s rhetoric leading up to 2016.
Trump is like rap music. I know, his followers are not going to like that comparison, but let me explain. When rap first jumped on the scene with “Rapper’s Delight,” a sort of cute rap that went on for 14 minutes, I thought it was just another fad that would soon disappear. That was 35 years ago. Trump is similar. He has always been an over-the-top real estate developer. I thought his multiple bankruptcies (four) would quiet him. Nope. Maybe his three marriages (Ivana, Marla and Melania) would make him unacceptable to the “family values” trumpeters of the party. I never thought his Mexican comments would end his run for president, but when he said Sen. John McCain wasn’t a war hero, I thought he was toast. Didn’t happen. Trump, like rap, is still with us.
If I believed in conspiracy theories, I’d think Trump was a Trojan horse designed to kill the GOP, but nobody’s that smart. But pretty soon, sane folks in the GOP will thump Trump right out of the race — I hope. Still, his comments will hang like an anchor around the neck of the other candidates, save one. If I’m wrong and Trump becomes the nominee, Republicans will start jumping off bridges on Nov. 8, 2016. A Democrat will again fill the highest office in the land. Do they really like the sound of President Clinton that much? And yes, that would be a big surprise.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet @crichard1020.