This week was a terrible day for America's investor class, not to mention one of the self-appointed spokesmen of western capitalism when NBCUniversal and then Macy's announced that they were parting ways with Donald Trump.
What's next for the billionaire developer? Presumably, he now has more time on his hands to concentrate on his presidential campaign. Meanwhile, there's the question of whether his Republican rivals should be concentrating on Trump.
Here's why: a CNN/WMUR New Hampshire Primary poll released last week had The Donald in second place, with 11% of the share. He trailed only his favorite speed-bag, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (leading the way at 16%).
So one school of thought for those Republicans who wake up in a cold sweat fearing The Donald has real traction with voters: if the polls are showing Trump as a top-tier candidate, time to take him down a few notches.
The other school of thought: if that poll's the measuring stick, then nearly nine in ten GOP voters aren't interested in Trump. So why bother, especially if he over-reacts to the NBC firing (he's already threatening to sue) by taking his bombastic ways to a new level. As I watch Trump do his thing, I'm reminded of a
nother non-politician who made life miserable for a different Bush. And that would be Pat Buchanan, who raised a ruckus in a New Hampshire primary that pitted him against then-President George H.W. Bush.
Three things to remember about Buchanan:
1) At the heart of his campaign were these words: "the needs of the forgotten Americans right here in the United States". As he explained in his December 1991 kickoff speech in New Hampshire, the time had come for "a new patriotism, where Americans begin to put the needs of Americans first, for a new nationalism where in every negotiation, be it arms control or trade, the American side seeks advantage and victory for the United States" (Buchanan would return to the "new patriotism" concept when he ditched the GOP for the Reform Party in 1999). Buchanan distrusted foreign powers, the political elite and feared America was morally adrift. That's two-thirds of the current Trump formula.
2) Pat wouldn't go away. In a two-man race, Buchanan ended up with only 23% of all primary votes. Still, he lasted all the way to the national convention. And, in New Hampshire, he exposed the vulnerability of then-President George H.W. Bush. Buchanan won half of the male and half of the conservatives on the GOP side, plus more than half of the registered independents who took part in the that year's Republican primary. Time will tell if Trump's impact is anywhere as significant.
3) The Bush-Quayle campaign (of which I was a part) struggled to make sense of the insurgency. The first impulse was to overplay the president's conservative credentials. As the primaries progressed, mockery was a preferred option (for example, running an ad in Michigan accusing the pro-American Buchanan of driving a foreign-made car). By the time Republicans rolled into Houston for their convention, the BQ92 decided to give Buchanan a national audience the wisdom of that move having been long debated.
As for any parallels to 2016 . . .
1) Trump's not a cultural warrior, like Buchanan, but got he's got the resentment part nailed down. "The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else's problems," Trump said in a campaign announcement that took shots at the Chinese, Japanese, Saudis and Mexicans (it was this anti-Mexico line "They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people" that proved too much for NBCUnivision).
2) But how much damage can Trump do in a crowded field? Buchanan pulled down 37% of the New Hampshire vote back in 1992. With at least a dozen Republicans (maybe more) in the early primaries, no single candidate only a bloc of candidates will come close to that level. Such a field means lots of candidates stuck on the middle rungs of the ladder. And Trump might lose his interest fast, once they start counting votes.
3) Which leads to the big question: how should Jeb Bush react to this guy? Remember, it’s Bush who’s been the principal target of Trump’s shots at the political class so much so that no less a Trump confidante than Mrs. Trump has told her husband to ease off. But perhaps this is Bush’s moment to score points at Trump’s expense, especially as matters pertain to Mexico and Latinos here in the U.S. Latino appeal, of course, being one of the cornerstones of the Bush 2016 campaign. And what better time that that first Republican debate in Cleveland on Aug. 6?
It won’t be aired on NBC. But maybe it’s a chance for any Republican candidate brave enough to, as it were, fire Trump.
And for Jeb Bush, maybe a trump card in trying to bolster his standing within the GOP field and with skeptical reporters.
• 07/02/15: Christie Almighty?
• 06/15/15: Did Hillary Flunk A History Lesson?
• 06/11/15: Thursday Candidates Quiz
• 06/10/15: First Best Second Choice
• 06/08/15: Game of Inches
• 06/03/15: The Power Of Narrative Politics
• 06/01/15: Sorting The Republicans' 2016 Kingdom
• 05/28/15: To Command Without Having Served
• 05/21/15: 2016: Do Looks Matter?
• 05/15/15: John Bolton's Swan Song
Reprinted from Forbes.com