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Calvin Freiburger

What Donald Trump’s Popularity Means for the Rest of the 2012 Field

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Posted on April 18 2011 6:30 pm
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.

Before I sat down to write this article, I pinched myself just to make sure I was awake and today’s subject wasn’t some weird dream. But alas, talking heads on both sides of the political spectrum really are seriously entertaining the possibility of President Donald Trump.

At the Daily Beast, Jim DeFede reports on why several Florida Tea Partiers have said they’re backing the Donald:

“We need a real businessman,” said Linda Kogelman, 63, a retired postal worker. “The lawyers don’t know how to run the country. They bow down to too many people.” Kogelman said no one else in the Republican field excites her.

“There is no one there,” she continued. “Romney is old hat. Newt is old hat. It’s just the same old same old. We need new blood.”

Her husband, Ken, 64, who closed his crane business in 2009 because of the downturn in the economy, nodded in agreement.

“They’ve destroyed this country,” he spit. Who?

“The Democrats.”

Standing nearby, 78-year-old Richard Walters was holding on to a letter he had written. He was hoping to be able to hand it to Trump.

“I used to be the Rolls Royce dealer in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach,” said Walters, who is now retired. “And he was one of my customers.”

Fond memories of The Donald?

“I didn’t like him,” Walters said. “He was an arrogant bastard. But I love him now. He is the only person in this country who can right the ship.”

Lest you think DeFede has cherry-picked some outliers to exaggerate Trump’s popularity, note that The Donald has some formidable poll numbers in the Republican primary field (he fares worse, however, in general election match-ups). Among the conservative punditocracy, the reaction is more mixed—Sean Hannity has been giving Trump substantial interview time, while Mark Levin has been intensely critical, and with good reason—Trump has flip-flopped on abortion, healthcare, and his party affiliation, used to be far more favorable to Barack Obama (calling George W. Bush “evil” in the process), and has donated substantially to Democrats. Given that record, it’s hard to conclude his recent professions of religiosity, shots about Obama’s birth certificate, and brazen talk of taking Iraq’s oil and charging the Arab League $5 billion to topple Gaddafi, are anything more than political pandering.

Some supporters, though, admit as much—and support him anyway:

This year on the Celebrity Apprentice, Hochfelsen explained, Gary Busey is on the show and he has just been acting like a lunatic, saying all sorts of crazy things. “Everyone on the show keeps telling Trump to fire Gary Busey and to get rid of him,” Hochfelsen added. “But he knows he can get more miles from Gary Busey by having him on the show. So he keeps him. And now everyone watches. The birther thing is his Gary Busey.” (Trump finally fired Busey Sunday night.)

But isn’t that pretty crass politically?

“What,” Hochfelsen snapped with incredulity. “Is he going to hurt the feelings of Obama’s grandmother in Kenya? It’s just business.”

What are we to make of all this? Why are disgruntled conservatives so receptive to the notion of putting a two-faced celebrity in the White House? One word: desperation.

You can see it in the comments above—people understand that we’re living in perilous times, and they rightly sense that most of GOP “good guys,” so to speak, either don’t know the right thing to do or lack the guts necessary to see it through. They remember how many times conventional Republicans have burned them. They know better than to take easy platitudes about loving Reagan and freedom as certificates of authenticity. As John Ziegler explains, many are so fed up with the milquetoast that, just like disgruntled college conservatives, they’re willing to try their luck with a wild card that presents himself with the guts, candor, and aggressiveness of a warrior.

As David Swindle points out, that’s a dangerous bet—moral clarity should be the first quality we seek in a candidate, and “it doesn’t help the conservative cause to get someone in who will get impeached or sabotage us in some other stupid way.” I hope voters think long and hard about character before casting their ballots, but I also hope the rest of the candidates recognize why Donald Trump is catching on, and assess their own claims to be presidential material accordingly.

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