Why is he so popular?

Listening to Mr. Trump as he campaigned across the country over the last week, and talking to the people shouting “U.S.A! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” who crammed into halls and ballrooms by the hundreds and sometimes thousands, shed some perspective on his appeal, and on the void he is filling in Republican politics.

Mr. Trump is not, as many Republicans have suggested, merely a renegade agitator who sneaked up on the party establishment and threatens to spoil its plans for a tidy, civil primary. Rather, Mr. Trump has become the new starring attraction for the restless, conservative-minded voters who think the political process is in need of disruption.

Some align themselves with the Tea Party movement. Others call themselves independents or Republicans who are just fed up. The praise they heap on Mr. Trump — “He speaks the truth,” “He’s fearless,” “He’s not politically correct” — echoes the words conservatives have used to describe others, like Sarah Palin and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who have stirred their passions before.

“They’re all talk, they’re no action,” Trump said, revving up his fiery takedown of politicians.

“I’m more disappointed in many ways with the Republicans,” Trump said. “They have this great indignation, whether it’s Benghazi or the emails… nothing ever happens.”…

New Hampshire voters said Trump spoke to their broad range of concerns. But his greatest appeal may be that they see him as authentic and unfiltered. The opposite, voters said, of even the Republicans they elected to serve them in Congress.

“When he talks, he talks like them. He has the same frustrations they do,” said Craig Robinson, a GOP activist in Iowa and editor of The Iowa Republican website. “They still want someone who’s just going to turn Washington on its head.”

“The issues that are driving the average Trump voter are, first and foremost, that he’s not a politician. Secondly, he is self-funding his campaign, so he can’t be bought,” said Steve Stepanek, Trump’s New Hampshire co-chairman, who supported Newt Gingrich in 2012 and Rudy Giuliani in 2008.

“People today are looking for plainspoken people who say what’s on their mind,” said Lou Gargiulo, a New Hampshire activist and Trump’s Rockingham County co-chair who supported Mitt Romney in the 2008 and 2012 Republican primaries…

At least in that way, said Murray, they really are like Richard Nixon’s silent majority of middle Americans. “They’re in the middle of the Republican Party. They’re not evangelicals. They’re not hardline social or fiscal conservatives. They’re also not on the liberal side of the party,” he said…

“They seem to be galvanized [by] a notion that Washington is hopelessly corrupt – and you need somebody who is completely outside of the process to go in there and shake things up,” he said. “Immigration really isn’t an issue in New Hampshire, but for a lot of these folks, I think immigration speaks more broadly to a federal government that’s not doing its job as effectively as they think it should be or could be.”

Next was Timothy Doody, 51, Colorado, real estate appraiser.

“I don’t know,” he said when I asked why he donated $500 to Trump. “I don’t know why I do half the things I do. I was probably drunk.”…

Doody explained that he’s a “conservative-leaning person” but a registered Democrat. Mostly, he sighed, “I just am fed up with politicians. I do know [Trump’s] negatives and I do know what he’s done as far as supporting Democrats via his corporations and supporting both parties.” But at the end of the day, Doody said, he liked that Trump could “rabble-rouse” and “make waves.”…

McNerney said he likes Trump “because he’s nonpolitical. He tells it like it is. He’s truthful, and he has more experience than being a short-term senator before he became president.” What kind of experience does Trump have, I asked. “At life and management, and I’m sure he has more foreign experience, which Obama Hussein has ruined.”

But even major figures in the GOP donor community who have no love for Trump now accept that little can be done to exclude him from the first debates.

“I don’t think you can step in to sideline him,” said one major donor, John Jordan, who has previously been critical of Trump. “The news organizations run the debates. … That’s a done deal, the party can’t intervene, and at some point you have to say there’s good and there’s bad in democracy.”…

“There are few people who are as good at getting media attention as Donald Trump, who is doing it either through flashy statements or downright demagoguery,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. 

“The problem is that there are some second-tier candidates who might have a chance as underdogs or could become important national voices for the party, like a Lindsey Graham, — who find that there is less interest in them as the cameras and keyboards are turned toward New York’s real estate mogul and TV star.”

“Trump presents a challenge for Bush because he’s a hand grenade,” said Nelson Warfield, a longtime Republican strategist who has prepared a number of candidates for debates. “His people understand that and will be prepared for anything that comes their way.”

As the Aug. 6 debate grows closer, some Republicans are relishing the prospect of Trump tearing the bark off the former governor — or, at the very least, trying to trip him up. “Trump has one target and one target only,” said an adviser to a rival GOP candidate. “He’s going to bring a lawn mower for Bush.”

If Trump is a danger for Bush, some close to the former governor say, he also presents opportunity. The debate will give Bush a national platform to take on Trump in strong terms, presenting himself as a mature, substantive leader who rises above toxic discourse. Bush may have hinted at that approach during a campaign stop in Iowa on Tuesday. “Whether it’s Donald Trump or Barack Obama, their rhetoric of divisiveness is wrong,” the former governor said. “A Republican will never win by striking fear in people’s hearts.”…

“It all depends on how far Trump is willing to take this,” said Warfield. “If he comes after Bush, and Bush defends himself forcefully, it could be a positive thing.”

Trump’s potential appeal to voters in the party’s populist wing is what could tilt his impact on Bush from threat to asset. Polls generally show Bush running best among the party’s “managerial” wing of college-educated, moderate, and upscale voters. That means if Trump can sustain his support—which many Republican analysts question—he is likely to be strongest among the voters where Bush is weakest. And to the extent Trump attracts those voters, he denies them to more-conventional Bush rivals like Walker or Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

Many GOP analysts agree that Bush will benefit if voters alienated from him gravitate to Trump, who probably faces a lower ceiling of total support, than to Walker or Rubio, who have the potential to build a broader and more potent coalition. Combining results from the past three NBC/Wall Street Journal national surveys, just 27 percent of GOP primary voters said they would consider voting for Trump, far fewer than indicated they could back Bush, Walker, or Rubio…

Walker may be the candidate with the most at risk from Trump’s ascent. Longtime New Hampshire GOP activist Tom Rath, who is unaffiliated in 2016, says that in the state’s critical primary next February, Trump “really hurts Walker, because Walker’s path to winning the nomination is to do really well in Iowa and then come in here and become the dominant ideological conservative coming out of here, and parlay those two things into a good showing in South Carolina.” But, Rath adds, “Walker only can do that if the Right doesn’t splinter.”…

Trump could benefit Bush in one other way: By expressing suspicion of immigrants in such unvarnished and incendiary language, the billionaire could provide the former Florida governor a foil to make his own views appear more mainstream, not only in the primary but also in the general election if he gets that far.

[C]ontrary to the pretensions of the anti-populists, it has been technocrats — not populists — who have had egg on their faces over the past decade. Pedigreed members of the meritocracy were the architects of the real-estate bubble and the 2008 financial crisis. Technocrats flocked to Barack Obama, sure that “No Drama Obama” with his perfectly creased pants would be the return to competence. As the rise of ISIS, the OPM hack, and the Affordable Care Act rollout demonstrate, this belief was sorely mistaken. And the establishment hasn’t exactly been the embodiment of judicious sobriety, either. Many in the cultural and economic elite drive the frenzy of the new intolerance. It’s not slack-jawed yokels who want to ban Civil War video games, suppress Latin literature, and hector transgressive comedians. The philistine demagogues of our day can, unfortunately, all too often be found in boardrooms, college classrooms, newsrooms, and seats of government. The current ruling establishment has not lived up to its own standards, which has made it harder for this establishment to ward off populist challenges.

At the moment, there is potential for a party to craft a governing majority that combines populist energies with sober deliberation. This enlightened populism would try to scale back the Byzantine bureaucracy that so often aids the powerful, but it would also focus on crafting government policies that would ultimately strengthen the nation’s vast aspirational majority. It would seek to temper popular anger with an optimistic and realistic narrative about the United States.

Republicans in particular have much to gain by embracing an enlightened populism. Far more damaging than any remarks Donald Trump might make at a press conference is the fact that many voters fear that Republican politicians either do not care about them or do not have policies that will improve their situations. That working-class alienation — more than any comments about “self-deportation” — is what sunk Mitt Romney’s presidential run in 2012. Repealing the Affordable Care Act will not shore up this popular deficit, nor will passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And, despite what some in the RNC might hope, slamming Hillary Clinton won’t, either. Myriad scandals did not stop Bill Clinton from winning two terms.

One of the explanations for Donald Trump’s surging poll numbers goes like this: The base doesn’t trust Republican leaders on immigration. This manifests in support for a man who tells it like it is.

The problem with this is that the immigration schism on the right is largely about rhetoric. Almost everybody agrees we must secure the border, and even the most hawkish anti-immigration reform advocates won’t admit they want to deport the 11 million, or so, illegals. There are differences of opinion on whether to allow for a pathway to citizenship or to legalize them, but almost nobody is advocating for mass deportation…

This brings us to some fundamental questions about leadership: Should leaders merely reflect the opinions of their followers, or try to lead them? My take is that, ideally, leaders persuade followers to follow them. But sometimes that doesn’t work. And then we’re left with this: If you’re the captain of a ship, and your most vocal passengers insist you to steer towards something that looks to you like an iceberg, do you do it?

Trump’s bubble tells us little about the 2016 race. What it says about Republican ideology, on the other hand, is that none of the factions—the libertarians, the religious right, the Tea Party—have much life in them. After all the sound and fury of the Obama years, no quarter of the right has generated ideas or leaders that compellingly appeal even to other Republicans, let alone to anyone outside the party. The Ron Paul revolution has become a Rand Paul Thermidor. There is no philosophical insurgency this year. Instead, there’s a sense that the right is becoming a prisoner to formalism: the religious right, the libertarians, and the Tea Party are all reduced to repurposing ideas minted decades ago. The various factions’ policies aren’t generating any excitement, which leaves room for an outsize, outrageous personality, in this case Trump, to grab attention.

The field’s failure here isn’t about satisfying an appetite for novelty, it’s about the failure of new circumstances to generate fresh applications of principle from the leading figures of the different factions. From Rand Paul we should be hearing something we didn’t hear much from his father, namely how libertarianism and noninterventionism can be made politically viable—especially in the hard cases, not just the relatively popular and easy ones like surveillance reform. From Huckabee and Santorum and Carson we should be hearing about what it means to be a moral minority in a country that has already accepted same-sex marriage; they could even be talking about the Benedict Option and whether the religious right’s mode of political engagement remains an alternative to it. (Judging by the GOP race itself, Obergefell doesn’t seem to be lighting any populist fires.)

There are difficult questions today that Ronald Reagan and the Cold War right never had to address. But they aren’t questions that the factional candidates or their ideological proxies are answering. None of them represents a 21st-century conservatism. Nor, of course, does Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is standing by his past support for universal health care…

Trump said his health care plan would take care of poorer people by negotiating deals with hospitals, saying he “actually a conservative with a heart.”

“Then on top of that, the people that can’t afford to do that, we have to help them out at the lower level,” added Trump. “We have to help them out. And I would make deals with hospitals, and I’d make deals with people where they can get some care, John. I mean, you can’t have a guy that has no money, that’s sick, and he can’t go see a doctor, he can’t go see a hospital. You know, I just don’t think you can have that. I mean, ‘cause I’m actually a conservative with a heart.”

Trump added that he didn’t care if he lost votes for his position, saying “you have to take care of poor people.”