The Trump bump tells us something about the state of American politics. Progressives are panting to interpret his surge as evidence of Republicans' black hearts. Some Donald Trump supporters have suggested that his success, such as it is/was (this is being written after the McCain flap and before polls have gauged its impact), is an indictment of the limp "Republican establishment." It's neither.
There are 116 candidates for the Republican nomination (I exaggerate slightly). In recent polls, Trump got 24 percent — more than any other candidate. But Scott Walker and Jeb Bush together got 25 percent of the total, and there are so many others that assigning a frontrunner is like trying to catch one guppy with a net. Besides, 54 percent say his views do not represent the values of the Republican Party. He's been a big donor to Hillary Clinton, Terry McAuliffe and other Democrats. He was pro-choice until about 6:30 this morning. He was for a single-payer health care system, and he's been remarkably uncharitable for a wealthy man.
Ah, they say, but Republicans are seething with hatred for Hispanics, especially illegal immigrants, and this accounts for Trump's hot-air liftoff. Illegal immigration does enrage some portions of the base, but only some. In a recent Pew poll, fully 66 percent of Republicans said illegal Mexican immigrants are "mostly honest," while only 19 percent said they are "mainly undesirable."
There is a talk-radio drumbeat about illegal-immigrant criminals. Still, most Republican voters are not strongly anti-immigration. They're ambivalent, with 56 percent favoring a path to legal status for aliens living here, according to a Pew poll, but 63 percent viewing immigrants as a burden.
Whatever one's views about immigration, the very worst way to broach the topic is to smear all Mexican illegals as "rapists" and criminals. It's obviously false. It's not even true that illegal immigrants commit a disproportionate share of crimes. Honest anti-immigration groups like the Center for Immigration Studies agree that first-generation immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-borns. (And immigration rates are falling.)
Well, we're told, people are choking on political correctness, and Trump is a breath of fresh air. So the best way to discredit political correctness is to embody the worst stereotype of an aggressive bigot?
Trump's moment is probably fading, but his little balloon ride is disturbing nonetheless. It's evidence that political intemperance is not limited to the left.
Thanks to the execrable leadership of the Democratic Party and its allies in the press, we have witnessed several years of stoked racial hatred in America. From the Trayvon Martin episode and Michael Brown's death, to the tragic cases of Eric Garner and the Charleston massacre, the country has been bathed in mendacious incitement. Opinion leaders insist it's still Selma in 1965. "Black lives matter" has become a movement — as if any decent person disagreed; as if the country had not spent half a century sedulously scrubbing racism from our polity; as if affirmative action were not a feature of educational, corporate and government policy; as if we hadn't elected and reelected a black president. Democratic candidates for president have been reduced to apologizing simply for saying "all lives matter."
The civil pieties that were once taken for granted in the political sphere — "all men are created equal" — are now controversial. The triumph of identity politics is complete on the left.
Barack Obama rose on a promise of harmony, but has used power to rend the nation along all of its weakest seams. This brand of leadership has not left his followers happier, but more bitter. As for his opponents, they are by turns grieving and disbelieving at the damage he's been able to inflict.
The only answer to division and hatred on the left is inclusion and unity on the right. A number of Republican candidates for president have been seeking to recast the Republican Party as the party of reform and outreach. They recognize that a party that lost not just the Hispanic vote, the black vote, the women's vote and the youth vote, but also the Asian vote has an image problem. As any number of successful Republican senators and governors have shown, it isn't necessary to adopt any particular policy (e.g., amnesty) to attract the votes of more Hispanics or Asians. It is necessary for the party to convey a welcoming spirit. Such a tone may even attract fence-sitting white voters who are left cold by a party that appears uninterested in the plight of the poor.
That is the Republican challenge and opportunity. Success beckons — but only post-Trump.