Jim Geraghty, no Trump fan, has already done a nifty job not just of picking apart the individual claims in this clip but of comparing Trump’s excesses to the left’s own fascist flirtations, from official White House policies on down to campus “safe spaces.” Did Trump say that all Muslims should register with the government? He insists he only meant Syrian refugees, not Muslim citizens. Did he ever call for deporting “Hispanic immigrants”? He called for deporting all illegal immigrants, not just the Hispanic ones — and then letting many of them back in eventually. Did he claim it was okay to rough up “black protesters”? He did say that a black protester who heckled him maybe deserved to get roughed up, but like Geraghty says, there’s no reason to racialize that. Trump being Trump, he probably would have said the same thing about a white protester — which doesn’t excuse the creepy viciousness of his sentiment but does upset the “Trump versus minorities” storyline here. And as for Trump wanting to “suppress journalists,” is Team Kasich talking about … this? Jorge Ramos disrupting a press conference by refusing to stop talking over other reporters and waiting his turn to be called on? C’mon.
Maybe Team Kasich thinks turnabout is fair play. Trump isn’t, shall we say, a stickler for factual accuracy in the things he says. Why should Kasich be in attacking him? The important question, though, is whether an ad like this will work. Don’t bet on it, says David Frum:
When a Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie, or Marco Rubio attacks Donald Trump as an unfit commander in chief because of this wild statement or that (and Trump’s statements can be plenty wild!), they miss the point. Reckless talk about the Iran nuclear deal, or the war in Syria, or the Russian assault on Ukraine may trouble voters—but the deal is made or unmade on a candidates’s credibility on border security. On that issue, the elected-office Republicans have all crowded together where the party isn’t, and Trump alone dominates the ground where the party is. He is the one positioned to attack them as naive and weak, not the other way around.
And how about the suggestion that Trump is a fascist dictator in the making? Good luck with that, too. Yes, over the past week, Donald Trump has wandered into territory where democratic politicians do not go. Jeb Bush and John Kasich have spoken up—a show of courage and character that should redound to their credit. Yet if there is one concept that conservative media have tried to pound into the heads of their listeners and readers, it is that fascism is always and everywhere a left-wing phenomenon. By definition, therefore, Trump can’t be a fascist—and anybody who says otherwise is probably a covert liberal himself or herself.
The key to Trump’s invulnerability is his stand on immigration, Frum argues. If you want to destroy him, make the case that he’s a closet amnesty fan, a guy who scolded the GOP for the harshness of its immigration proposals in 2012, who’s used illegal immigrant labor himself on some of his building projects, and whose immigration rhetoric even now imagines readmitting many illegals into the United States legally after they’ve been deported. The core of Trump’s unbreakable appeal is that voters who no longer trust other Republicans, especially on immigration, think they can trust him. Destroy that trust and you destroy his candidacy.
The alternative is to do what Kasich’s doing here, trying to shame Republicans into not voting for him. That seems nuts if the idea is to get Trump fans, who’ve already endured umpteen thousand attempts to shame them during the last few months, to dump him now. If you’re looking to weaken the support Trump already has, Frum’s plan is a smarter play — and don’t think Team Cruz, which covets Trump’s voters, doesn’t know that. Why do you suppose Cruz’s new immigration plan is so robust and so detailed on enforcement mechanisms? Eventually Cruz is going to end up arguing that not only does Trump not really know what he’s talking about on immigration policy, he’s as much of a soft-on-illegals fraud given his own past statements as Rubio is. I think the target audience for this spot isn’t Trump fans but rather undecideds who might not care as much about immigration (if they did, they’d already be on Team Trump, no?) but are starting to pay attention to the race now and are looking at Trump amid all the buzz around him. He’s not going to win the nomination pulling the 25-30 percent in polls he’s getting now; he might win an early state or two, but as the field narrows, his competitors will begin to consolidate voters among their closest competitors. If you can steer undecideds away from him, you can hold him to 30-35 percent or whatever and all but guarantee that someone else wins the nomination.
And if that’s the approach, it tells you how much establishmentarians are now resigned to the idea of Trump being a factor in the primaries. For six months, the plan was to destroy his support by waving him off as a boorish joke and waiting for him to “gaffe” himself out of the race. The strategy now, apparently, is to simply contain him. Hmmmm. Exit question: How exactly does this ad benefit Kasich again? Does Kasich think he’s the logical second choice for moderates who really like belligerence in a candidate? I don’t get it.