WASHINGTON, July 16, 2015 – Donald Trump has fired up the crazies. That at least is the assessment of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the wake of Trump’s rally in Phoenix last week.
McCain had been trying to win back the Arizona GOP from the “crazies” and for the moderate establishment, or “RINOs,” as the crazies call them.
Trump may have put his efforts in jeopardy.
National Republicans worry that Trump has put the entire Party in jeopardy. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham told a radio audience this week, “It is incumbent upon my party, at the highest levels, to say ‘We do not agree with Donald Trump when he says most illegal immigrants are rapists and drug dealers.’ Our party has a chance to win in 2016 unless we adopt rhetoric like this that alienates further the Hispanic community who should be, in my view, in the Republican camp in 2016 unless we drive them away.”
Graham and other GOP leaders labor under a delusion: Hispanic voters are just waiting to be won by the GOP. They are not. Republicans at their most successful have never taken a majority of the Hispanic vote in a presidential race, nor even come close. Hispanics around the country vote in large majorities for Democrats.
Republicans argue that Hispanics are a naturally conservative constituency, sharing Republican values on family and faith. That may be true, but black voters also share Republican values on faith, and in spite of the high rate of broken black families, blacks are conservative on issues of marriage as well.
That doesn’t make them Republicans.
Economic issues trump social issues almost every time, and on economic issues, Hispanics and blacks are Democrats, not Republicans.
That doesn’t justify Republicans needlessly alienating black and Hispanic voters. In close elections, even a relative handful of black voters can make a difference, and the first step to winning a new generation of Hispanic voters is to establish the Republican brand with them as a reputable brand, even if they still go Democrat by force of habit.
In some districts, Republicans have made solid inroads with Hispanics, and it would be political insanity to throw those gains away.
But Hispanic voters aren’t single issue, most general election voters aren’t Hispanic, and Hispanics have no clout at all in Republican primaries.
Trump has taken hold of a complex issue with both hands and is using it as a bludgeon. And in its simplest form, the immigration story isn’t different than Trump presents it: The U.S. does not have total control over its borders, and as a result, millions of Hispanics have entered the country illegally, bringing with them violent gang members and criminals.
Americans have been victimized and killed by these criminals, and Washington is fiddling ineffectually while it happens.
That simple story resonates, and not just with crazies. The murder of a young woman in broad daylight in a “sanctuary city” by several-times deported illegal immigrant is a story to make people infuriated at the authorities who let it happen. Trump knows it, and so do McCain, Graham, and the rest of the Republican leadership.
Even Democrats know it, and they know that the issue will only grow more acute.
American politics today is about energizing grass roots, exciting the base, increasing message spread and penetration, and all the other clichés beloved of political pundits. That increasingly comes down to feeding the crazies. With over a dozen candidates in the race, the wonder is that more Republicans haven’t spent more time amplifying the craziness factor.
Hillary Clinton, still certain that she has no real competition for her Party’s nomination, has opted to say nothing specific about anything important. She’s refused to comment on fast-track authority for trade deals, on the nuclear deal with Iran, or on Coke vs. Pepsi. Instead of feeding the crazies, she can impersonate a bobble head, which she is doing brilliantly.
What pundits call “crazies” are often really just voters who see the forest without focusing on the trees. We have a serious immigration problem, and so of course there are immigration crazies. Daesh (ISIS), Syria and Iran are an constantly metastasizing disaster, and so there are Middle East crazies. The economy, prisons, race and government spying all present complex and messy problems, and so each has its crazies.
President Obama, like God, concerns himself with every sparrow in the political jungle. John Kerry knows every plant and every leaf in the Mirkwood of the Middle East. John McCain is a dendrologist at play in the Dark Forest of immigration.
Or so the non-crazies ask America to believe.
Donald Trump doesn’t know squat about trees, and he doesn’t care. He does know a Dark Forest full of Acromantulas when he sees it.
We don’t need Trump to shoot his flamethrower at everything that moves in the woods, and we don’t need Kerry to lecture us about the plant that’s chowing down on our feet. We need politicians who can be honest about the big picture while understanding the importance of some details.
We aren’t getting a sense of urgency or honesty from the details men, though, so it isn’t surprising that the “crazies” are out in force. If establishment Republicans expect to change that, they should start with some honesty and a display of understanding, then remember, it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.