It’s really hard to imagine the kind of brick-wall thinking that passes for leadership in the Republican Party. You would think, at this late stage of the game, that at least a few of the major political strategists would have caught on. But even as we round the corner heading to Christmas and beyond, Donald Trump’s stubborn position atop the primary field continues to flummox all of these so-called establishment smarty-pants.
In a memo obtained by the Washington Post, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee offered his thoughts on Trump and how Senate incumbents and candidates should position themselves in 2016. Ward Baker advised Republicans to “grab onto the best elements of Trump’s anti-Washington populist agenda.”
And ride it all the way to victory, presumably.
“Trump has risen because voters see him as authentic, independent, direct, firm, — and believe he can’t be bought,” Baker wrote. “These are the same character traits our candidates should be advancing in 2016. That’s Trump lesson #1.”
Baker warned candidates not to fall too far down the Trump rabbit hole, however. He wrote that while Republicans should embrace Trump’s tough talk, they should avoid some of the mogul’s more controversial comments. Don’t attack, though – the entire ticket will be damaged if the GOP vote gets too divided or if enthusiasm wanes.
“Trump will continue to advance those messages, but you don’t have to go along with his more extreme positioning,” he wrote. “Instead, you should stake out turf in the same issue zone and offer your own ideas.”
Baker also muses on the character of political advertisements, telling candidates that they must move beyond the old standards. “Consider featuring a candidate in a field ripping up a rotten tree stump so the field can be cleared and planting can be done.”
There is some obvious wisdom in Baker’s memo, but the overall tone of this missive gets all of the details rights while ignoring the fundamental movement that has put Trump on top. Yes, some of Trump’s popularity comes from the sheer absurdity of his personality. Some of it comes from frustration over Republican failure to stand up to Obama. Some of it may even come from Trump’s pre-campaign celebrity.
But the biggest bulk of Trump’s support comes from the fact that voters see him as a man who tells it like it is. Baker hits this on the head, but then goes on to encourage candidates to craft a careful image of authenticity themselves. Ripping out tree stumps? If you see your state Senate candidate in such a commercial, you should vote for the Democrat on sheer principle alone.
Voters are sick to death of these calculating insults to their intelligence. If these are the best lessons the GOP can learn from Trump, the memo might as well advise candidates to start wearing blond wigs and use the word “huge” a lot.
Some 20, 30 percent of Republican voters have decided, for the time being, that Donald Trump is their man. That leaves the vast majority of voters in other camps or undecided. Where those voters will wind up is anyone’s guess, but it’s safe to assume that there is one thing they don’t want: a “safe” version of Donald Trump. If candidates need to be told to “be authentic,” then the great mystery of Trump’s success is no mystery at all.