Donald Trump, the real estate tycoon, is now second in the polls for the Republican nomination for president.
What are we to make of this fact? Is he a serious candidate for president? Does he have something meaningful to contribute to the debate ahead? Is he just fodder to keep the cable news networks functioning for the next few months?
Certainly one needs to start by saying he has been successful in drawing the attention of the media and the public. Everyone is talking about him. He is the primary topic on all political shows. Many are ridiculing him or being highly critical, yet he is indeed the center of attention. I have also been unable to resist writing a blog post about him.
What about the content of his message? Thus far it has been heavily on the topic of illegal immigration. His remarks have been offensive to Mexicans and the Mexican government. He has accused the government of deliberately sending their criminals, rapists, etc., to the United States with no proof. He makes outrageous statements and feels no compulsion to provide any documentation for what he has to say, or he uses clearly disreputable sources for asserting questionable statistics. Note some clarifications from FactCheck.org.
Yet, Trump seems to have struck a chord with a sizable group of voters. His style is in your face and intimidating. He says whatever comes to mind and he says it in such a way as to assert the truth of his comments. He is likely to be a force at the first Republican debate. Many people find his forceful and overbearing rhetoric attractive. He is seen as tough and decisive.
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Will he ultimately be a serious threat to anyone? On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is playing a similar role. He is not likely to be a serious threat to the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, but he represents for many a new face saying a lot of things the base of the party wants to hear. If he were speaking somewhere down the road I would be motivated to go see him, but that doesn’t mean I would vote for him.
Eugene McCarthy played a similar role in the 1968 campaign where he drew huge crowds but was not a factor.
Clearly Trump is also saying things a number of Republicans like to hear. He is currently sucking all the oxygen out of the race, yet we need to remember the election is more than a year away.
Both Trump and Sanders will likely fade away as the election draws closer. The question is where will this debate lead the country? Will we succumb to the nasty rhetoric of exclusion and division, or will we move to a more reasonable solution to the immigration question? Will we choose to condemn those who come to our shores seeking to provide for their families? Alternatively, will we be able to see these individuals and families as more like us, seeking the same things for their families that we want for ours?
The bombastic rhetoric of Trump is difficult to counter, but he does not appear to represent the mainstream of the current crop of Republican candidates for president. A continued insistence on the true facts of the situation over time will break through and expose the empty divisive rhetoric of Trump for what it is.