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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Two Reasons Not to Dismiss The Donald - Trump warrants GOP attention for the damage he can do and the lesson he can bring

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Search Google for Donald Trump buffoon and you will get more than 50,000 hits in return. As that suggests, the tendency to dismiss Mr. Trump, the billionaire populist Republican presidential candidate as exactly that—a buffoon—is pretty widespread.

It’s also a mistake. Mr. Trump is important for two reasons: first for the damage he can do to the Republican Party, and second for the useful lesson he can teach that same party. The potential damage comes largely in the harm he can do—indeed, already may have done—to Republicans’ crucial mission of building better bridges to Hispanics. The lesson comes by way of illustrating the depths of populist anger running through sectors of the GOP right now.

It seems necessary to note that Mr. Trump isn’t a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination, in the sense that he might actually win. But he can win a place on the campaign stage, at least for a while, his relative strength increased by the dilution of support across a sprawling GOP field that now has more than a dozen affirmed contenders. He ranked second in the most recent CNN/ORC national poll of Republican voters at 12%, and tied for second in the latest Quinnipiac survey of Iowa voters.

Nobody is more eager to remind us of this burst of support than Mr. Trump himself, who seems available to jump on the phone at any time with any cable-TV host to discuss it. The specific problem for Republicans is that what most of Mr. Trump’s interlocutors ask about is the view of Hispanics he laid out in his announcement speech, which was more of an announcement screed.

That was the speech in which he characterized Hispanic immigrants this way: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” As for the country of Mexico itself, he declared: “They are not our friend, believe me.”

This view of Hispanics is associated with a man who, for the moment at least, has a good chance of carrying those views into nationally televised Republican presidential debates starting in one month.

The reason this matters so deeply is best illustrated in a new book, “2016 and Beyond,” by Republican pollster Whit Ayres. The book’s subtitle is “How Republicans Can Elect a President in the New America,” and Mr. Ayres musters data that shows that task is pretty much impossible without an improved performance among Hispanic voters.

In a nutshell, the story is this: The white population is steadily shrinking as a share of the electorate, and the Hispanic population is steadily growing. But the Republicans’ presidential-campaign performance has been going in the reverse order: Its candidates are winning more of a shrinking white vote and losing more of a growing Hispanic vote.

In 2012, Mitt Romney won a whopping 59% of the white vote, more than either John McCain in 2008 or George W. Bush in 2004. But Mr. Romney won only 17% of the non-white vote, less than either Mr. McCain in 2008 or Mr. Bush in 2004. Net result: comfortable Democratic win.

Fast forward to 2016, when the white share of the vote will be smaller and the Hispanic share larger, and Mr. Ayres calculates that a Republican who wins the same 59% share of the white vote that Mr. Romney took will have to take 30% of the non-white vote—almost twice the share Mr. Romney took—to win the election.

“Republicans can complain about these trends, wring their hands over them, and get heartburn as a result,” writes Mr. Ayres, who now is polling for the presidential effort of Sen. Marco Rubio. “What they can’t do is change them.”

What they can also do is avoid making their challenge bigger, which is where Mr. Trump’s disparaging comments about Hispanics have done harm, and which is why most other GOP candidates are running away as fast as their legs will carry them.

Yet there is something more instructional about Mr. Trump, which lies in his simple but angry narrative of America today: We’re getting weaker, our enemies are getting stronger and our leaders are too “stupid” to do anything about it. Indeed, he used the words “stupid” or “stupidity” eight times in his announcement speech, mostly in reference to our nation’s political leaders, and not just Democrats.

Mr. Trump’s burst is a sign that there is a populist streak at the base of the party. This is in part the natural result of the GOP’s expansion in the past three decades to include more working-class voters.

Today, many of them feel economically threatened and marginalized by cultural change. Some cite a decline in moral values as the most alarming trend in the country. They aren’t the genteel patricians of Republican stereotype, but they are Republicans nonetheless.

And yes, The Donald is speaking to them.

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