What a change one week makes. The loss in Iowa, said one smart guy on CNN, stripped the “winner” image from Donald Trump. Now, after a thumping victory in New Hampshire, Trump the winner image has been resuscitated. The swing from Iowa to New Hampshire seems to be a rite of passage for Republican Presidential candidates. The best & quickest way to see that is to read the article by Lou Cannon on June 1, 1980 in the Washington Post about Candidate Reagan’s loss in Iowa. Candidate Reagan had avoided a debate with other candidates including George H.W. Bush and lost Iowa. That “liberated” him to campaign his way and perform in New Hampshire, wrote Cannon.
Cannon points out that though Reagan “held a wide lead in public opinion polls, Reagan’s age, conservatism, and lack of foreign policy experience seemed heavy marks against him. And that while “the nomination was “Reagan’s to lose“, there were “many who expected Reagan to lose it“.
Reading this article from June 1980 felt weird. Because it could be reproduced almost verbatim by replacing “Reagan” by “Trump” in June 2016 if Donald Trump ends up winning the Republican nomination.
Trump’s win in New Hampshire was broad and deep. He carried virtually every segment of the electorate including Evangelicals who had left him in Iowa. His ground game was strong and he campaigned in small gatherings as if he has been playing retail politics all his life. But his win brought back Trump haters to spin and blame everyone and everything for Trump’s win.
One especially nutty article by David Rothkopf devoted itself to the theme that Trump’s supporters should be blamed for his win. It was nutty alright but it got us thinking. Is “supporter” the right word for people who vote for Donald Trump? We ask because people in focus groups on TV routinely criticize him, use unflattering terms for him, but end up saying they will vote for him. That is not the behavior of supporters. That is behavior of people who choose a “champion” to fight for them even though they may not entirely like him or even agree with him.
The more we think about it, the word “champion” seems more & more appropriate. Every single American knows or feels that the country has been sort of stuck in mud for the last 16 years. Progress feels like dragging yourself through and out of a muddy sloshy quagmire. You feel elated when you can take one foot out of the slosh. But when you raise the other foot to escape the slosh, you fall right back into it.
That is how the economy has behaved. You begin every year hoping for a breakout in GDP; every year you get one quarter of strong growth but then GDP falls right back into the 1.5%-2.5% slosh. Neither President Bush nor President Obama have been able to do anything about it. Heck, they didn’t even recognize the slosh Americans were stuck in. They certainly didn’t talk about it.
People forget that after D-Day, the US army was stuck fighting the Germans making small progress that seemed like sloshing through mud. In a clip in the movie “Patton”, General Omar Bradley explains to General Patton his idea of using the Third Army to breakout and make a run on a different path while leaving the main force to fight through the slosh. Patton replies “you are going to need a XXX SOB to command Third Army“. Bradley smiles & says “Ike came to that conclusion six months ago in London” – meaning Ike had already chosen Patton to command that breakout.
Neither General Eisenhower nor General Bradley were great fans of Patton, his style, his profanity. But they knew he was the one commander who could break out of the slosh with the Third Army and lead them to victory. That is why they chose him.
We think people who go to Trump’s rallies, people who vote for him, people who encourage him when he gets profane, are thinking the same way. That Donald Trump is the one commander who would lead them out of the slosh they are struggling through; that he is the champion for them. And his aggression, his refusal to back down, his constant attack and his occasional profanity all help them in choosing him as their champion. After all, they are not hiring him to babysit their children. They are hiring him to go to war for them.
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