Trump confounds critics, defies political classification

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz are easy to sort into political boxes; Donald Trump defies classification—liberal-conservative, GOP-Democratic—to be his pragmatic self.

Image courtesy of candidate's portfolio of photos available for public use via Twitter.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., May 3, 2016 — Wall Street Journal commentator Peggy Noonan said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that journalists have found it difficult to pigeonhole Republican candidate Donald Trump. The former speechwriter for President Reagan observed that Trump’s views are “a categorical jumble that he is creating.”

Noonan observed that the candidate stands for things very much at odds with long-time policies of the Republican power people in Washington. Yet, “the wind is obviously at his back when you win the five primaries so decisively in the past week in the northeast corridor primary, New York a big win at that … Holy mackerel, something big is happening in the party.”

A man who stands defiantly as his own person, Trump’s odd combination of left and right views threatens the GOP’s carefully crafted party identity. Trump’s views are both to the left of Hillary and to her right: left on foreign affairs and military intervention, right on social issues.

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Will a stubborn establishment allow the upstart Trump to chart a new Republican course for this century? Or, as they fear, could he destroy the venerable GOP itself? It is clear that Trump’s revolutionary campaign and independence so far don’t easily fit into any political box, liberal or conservative.

Rather, Trump is an outsider, a pragmatist and a businessman who hasn’t the patience or inclination to waste valuable time sitting around talking. He is America’s new action figure, like it or not.

This change doesn’t sit well with the old guard. Disdaining ideology, Trump has said clearly that he stands for America, not for any party. Someone once said that money doesn’t talk; it screams. With his campaign largely self-funded so far, Trump has turned his back on being indebted to party operators. He hasn’t been bought and paid for by anyone and consequently does not answer to anyone involved in the Washington machine.

That fact has allowed him to remain outside the traditional inside-the-beltway ideological boxes. Entering from the back door, he’s been able to sidestep the normal course of political vetting. He’s not your run of the mill party apparatchik; he hasn’t pledged allegiance to the party’s dogma, slogans and rationales; he’s not imbued with all the reasons to hate the other side.

The key to understanding the Trump candidacy, suggests Noonan, is to understand that The Donald is not in any box. He eschews boxes. And by doing so, he rejects the established political class on all sides. He doesn’t belong to either club. He breaks their rules. He eats their food, but leaves the table with not so much as a by your leave.

As party leaders see it, there’s us, and there’s them. From their standpoint, it’s always better to be us; better to be in the exclusive club that is the Washington power structure. When the rules remain the same, everyone may remain comfortably inside their ideological boxes and the kingdom may continue on apace. Permanence, predictability and prestige remain firmly in place. with campaign funding assuring the continued loyalty of party members.

Out there, on the other side of the Washington Beltway, it can be a jungle. Politicians hustle before their busy constituents, attempting to sell them policies and laws like so many snake-oil salesmen and sideshow barkers with their shell-game con.

To survive on the hustings, a box politician repeats his party’s accepted catechism to approving nods from a compliant and also-inside-the-box national media. In that way, membership carries its own benefits: Inside-the-box politicians are never alone. They’re in a club, accepted and secure. With strength in numbers, the establishment defends its own against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

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Trump’s outsider status and the fact that he owes no debt to in-the-box politics make him an enigma who’s vexing politicians and the in-the-box media alike. How can they fight a man whose views are sometimes inside, sometimes outside, the norm of established politics? How can they maintain their old arguments in the face of reason, fresh thinking and the pragmatism of a businessman for whom results matter more than membership in their club?

Simultaneously rejecting their money and their out-dated boxisms, Trump is a one-man show, answerable only to himself and those many citizens who, for years, themselves, have operated outside the box. He has no need of the tired old campaign slogans of the boxers. In his own Boxer Rebellion*, Trump has jumped the fence to speak directly to those in flyover country, fellow Americans who, like him, have no particular club membership, or if they do, have been considering letting it lapse.

This is why the Washington establishment has such trouble grasping the Trump phenomenon. His originality and refusal to kowtow are slaps in the face to those for whom the same old, worn out approaches have offered stability in an unpredictable and uncertain world.

His brazen challenges at the altar of political correctness have provided the final coup de grace. Earlier in the campaign season, the speech brigade was certain that Trump’s colorful speech patterns—including such terms as, “Lyin’ Ted,” “Little Marco” and “Crooked Hillary”—would do him in. Instead, his plain speech has struck a chord with an electorate sick and tired of being told what to say, when to say it and when to shut up.

With every vote, the electorate voices its approval of an American who stands unafraid before the school marms of business-as-usual politics, don’t-rock-the-boat journalism and political correctness. They are voting for Trump even as he continues to break the china and be himself.

Many in power still do not understand Trump, a fact that suggests that they have lost touch with the country. In an America that’s now 16 years into a new century, the Trump run up to the presidency has flung open the doors to offer an outrageous, somehow satisfying challenge to the status quo.

Political pundits can talk until they’re blue in the face, but until they learn to understand the boxes in which they still operate; until they learn to use their brains for what they were intended rather than to store platitudes and soundbites; until they see the national campaign in terms of regular voters and their non-partisan pragmatism; and until they dare to be different and embrace differences in others, they’ll never truly get it.

Trump is showing them to be relics of the last century.

Let the businessman lead them, for it’s the businessman who thinks outside the box. And it’s the businessman who can recreate the box, in a new shape, with skylights and floor to ceiling windows, to let in the light.

* Boxer Rebellions: The first was an anti-foreign uprising which took place in China towards the end of the Qing dynasty, between 1899 and 1901; the second began in 2015 when an outsider candidate, Donald Trump, challenged the status quo in American politics.

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