I’ve seen this comparison made a lot lately and still haven’t figured out why the Gingrich and Perry boomlets of 2012 should be a useful baseline for measuring the Trump boomlet this year. The dynamics of the two campaigns are completely different, as was/is the rise of the three candidates. Gingrich was pretty much a pure “Not Romney” choice during his poll honeymoon, who ultimately failed to turn his South Carolina win into a serious threat to Mitt when he lost the Florida primary a few weeks later. Perry was a guy righties got excited about early, then gradually gave up on after he crapped the bed at several debates. He was never a threat in any primary. Both of them were creatures of a race defined by a single question, “Is a Romney coronation inevitable?” This race is different — a much bigger, stronger field, for one thing, and a much weaker Romney figure who’s gotten lost in the shuffle in Jeb Bush. And Trump, needless to say, is sui generis, both in his politics and his ability to command a megaphone. Perry and Gingrich were promoted by conservatives who didn’t want to nominate a guy whom they didn’t believe when he said he was “severely conservative.” Trump all but admits that he’s not severely conservative and no one cares — not the conservatives who like him and not the many moderates who do too. He’s a brilliant performer riding a populist wave when all Perry and Gingrich had was a ripple.
So, apples and oranges, in which case there’s no reason to think that the Perry/Gingrich 40-day shelf life should translate to Trump, especially during a news cycle of August doldrums. But this seems like a fitting way to end a week when pretty much everyone finally agreed that Trumpmania isn’t going away soon.
One other reason why Trump has staying power is talk radio. Conservative talkers liked Gingrich in 2012 and really liked Perry, but (apart from Glenn Beck) they’re riding the populist Trumpmania tsunami almost as much as Trump is. The earthquake that created that tsunami: Immigration, of course.
It’s hard to tell whether the hosts actually really like Trump, whose conservative bona fides fall apart the minute the discussion goes beyond immigration, or whether they’re more concerned with pleasing their audience and with keeping the focus on the immigration debate that fires up the base. Trump, after all, has supported many positions antithetical to conservative orthodoxy over the years — universal health care, a pro-choice approach to abortion (since reversed), banning assault weapons, and so forth…
Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist who has come under attack from fellow conservatives for opposing Trump, said that he thought conservative talk radio’s focus on Trump is a ploy to please listeners and keep them tuned in. The conservative media is more crowded than ever with sources of information, and though they still command large audiences, talkers don’t have the same kind of hegemony they once did.
“The get out of jail free card of ‘I’m not with Trump but isn’t he awesome about The Wall/Those Damn Dirty Mexicans/Bush/Megyn Kelly/the media/topic du jour’ is a mighty tiny fig leaf,” Wilson said. “Of course, they’re in the phase where they’ve monetized Trump mania, so they have to keep stoking the story and stirring their audiences with ever-more-grandiose paeans to Trump’s godhood.”
I don’t think it’s about “monetization” as much as staying on the right side of the “Us vs. Them” line. Rush Limbaugh could, I have no doubt, uncork a four-hour monologue on Trump’s conservative heresies at a moment’s notice if called on to do so, but the genius of Trump’s performance so far is how he’s turned his own personal enemies into “our” enemies, and no one’s really immune from that. If Limbaugh went after him, no matter how justifiably, the question would inevitably arise afterward of just whose side Rush is really on. He’s a very wealthy man, after all. He’s been known to make nice with the Bush family. Perhaps there are players behind the scenes who’ve leaned on him to do their bidding. Is he, deep down, really … one of Them? No wonder he stays away from tangling with Trump. Who needs that nonsense?
Since we’re tossing out polls from previous campaigns, though, and trying to match apples to oranges, here’s a fun one from Patrick Ruffini:
Democratic primary polling, 2004. pic.twitter.com/cTHZjA2jZm
— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) August 28, 2015
Is Trump Lieberman? Is he Dean? Or is he Kerry?