Donald Trump is winning elections but losing the under-the-radar delegate battle. The Cruz campaign is better organized, better prepared, and more familiar with the byzantine process. After being outmaneuvered in Colorado, Trump has been in sustained tantrum mode, complaining at every turn about how unjust and anti-democratic the system is.
In an op-ed Friday for The Wall Street Journal, titled “Let Me Ask America a Question,” Trump escalated his protest campaign against the RNC. The article is a masterpiece of faux populist rhetoric. “In recent days,” Trump writes, “something all too predictable has happened: Politicians furiously defended the system. ‘These are the rules,’ we were told over and over again.”
“Let me ask America a question,” Trump continues, “How has the ‘system’ been working out for you and your family? I, for one, am not interested in defending a system that for decades has served the interest of political parties at the expense of the people. Members of the club – the consultants, the pollsters, the politicians, the pundits and the special interests – grow rich and powerful while the American people grow poorer and more isolated.”
Rhetoric like this will play well among Trump’s base. His campaign is itself a nebulous protest event. He has no ideas, no concrete proposals, no viable plans to address the problems against which he rails. He’s addressing people whose anger is directed at a faceless system about which they know they know very little. By tapping into that anger and remaining solutions-free, Trump has made himself a vessel for popular frustration. If you’re pissed off, you vote for Trump – everything else will sort itself out.
The “system” and the “pundits” and the “politicians” are easy enemies – and Trump has wisely made his candidacy a de facto rejection of them. His campaign is as vapid as it gets, but demagogues don’t deal in specifics; they excite the populace while profiting from their rage.
Trump writes: “The only antidote to decades of ruinous rule by a handful of elites is a bold infusion of popular will. On every major issue affecting this country, the people are right and the governing elite are wrong. The elites are wrong on taxes, on the size of government, on trade, on immigration, on foreign policy.”
There’s nothing bold about this proclamation: The easiest thing a politician can do is to tell the people they’re right and the “elites” are wrong. Trump’s supporters are so busy pumping their fists in agreement that they never get around to asking what he’s actually going to do about taxes or the size of government or trade – or, more importantly, how he’s going to do it. The stale platitudes mouthed by Trump suffice to quiet any practical concerns they may have.
This op-ed is a reminder that Trump’s strategy is to whip people into an anti-government frenzy and then render himself the antithesis of everything wrong with Washington. Which is why he deliberately undercuts Cruz’s outsider credentials:
“Mr. Cruz has toured the country bragging about his voterless victory in Colorado. For a man who styles himself as a warrior against the establishment (you wouldn’t know it from his list of donors and endorsers), you’d think he would be demanding a vote for Coloradans. Instead, Mr. Cruz is celebrating their disenfranchisement….The great irony of this campaign is that the ‘Washington cartel” that Mr. Cruz rails against is the very group he is relying upon in his voter-nullification scheme.”
Trump concludes with this populist gem: “My campaign strategy is to win with the voters. Ted Cruz’s campaign strategy is to win despite them.” There's a scintilla of truth to this statement, which makes it all the more effective.
The sad part about Trump is that he’s actually right about a number of things: The “system” is corrupt; special interests are too powerful; the process is anti-democratic. Trump doesn’t give a damn about any of this, however – the unseriousness of his campaign proves it. But rage is in the air this election season, and Trump knows how to exploit it. He’s a billionaire real estate mogul born into tremendous wealth and yet he’s aligned himself with “the people.” And ghostwritten op-eds like this are what make him so dangerous.