It’s Trump’s party now.
No, actually, my headline — and this story — make the memo sound juicier than it is. The premise is irresistible: The NRSC, long derided by grassroots righties as the heart of the GOP establishment, is suddenly and secretly encouraging Republicans to embrace Trumpmania? Good lord. It’s like record companies suddenly shifting from pop metal to grunge after Nirvana sold a jillion copies in 1991. It’s a revolution! Nothing will ever be the same!
Read the memo. (It’s seven very short pages.) What they’re really proposing is a sort of pop-grunge version of Trumpmania, replete with lots of obvious campaign advice that you too might float if you devoted five minutes to cooking up gimmicks aimed at riding a populist tide among the electorate. And bear in mind that they wrote memos similar to this one for other GOP presidential contenders. Presumably there’s a strategy memo floating around for what to say if Rubio’s the nominee (“our party has embraced a new, diverse generation of leadership!”), one if Cruz is the nominee (“our party has never been more committed to conservative values!”), and so forth. This isn’t, in other words, some special report they felt obliged to do because they’re now convinced Trump has singularly good odds of becoming the nominee, which would be newsy. They’re doing this seemingly as a matter of course for various top candidates.
In the memo on the “Trump phenomenon,” NRSC executive director Ward Baker said Republicans should embrace his tough talk about China and “grab onto the best elements of [his] anti-Washington populist agenda.” Above all, they should appeal to voters as genuine and beyond the influence of special interests.
“Trump has risen because voters see him as authentic, independent, direct, firm, — and believe he can’t be bought,” Baker writes. “These are the same character traits our candidates should be advancing in 2016. That’s Trump lesson #1.”…
Addressing Trump’s controverial past statements about women, Baker writes, “Houston, we have a problem.”
“Candidates shouldn’t go near this ground other than to say that your wife or daughter is offended by what Trump said,” Baker adds. “We do not want to re-engage the ‘war on women’ fight.”
So, emphasize authenticity and run hard against Washington. But also, avoid saying anything dismissive or boorish about women, as Trump has been known to do. Take the good parts of Trumpmania while leaving the bad. Don’t ever accuse the NRSC of not earning its money.
Some of this advice isn’t so much about embracing “Trumpism” as it is about gesturing broadly and perfunctorily towards populism, even if it involves stuff Trump himself wouldn’t be caught dead doing. For example:
Another part of the memo urges candidates to “lose the suit and visit people in their homes and places of work,” even though Trump unfailingly sports a suit and tie even at his rallies in the deep south. All of this is Politics 101 in any election cycle, not just one where Trump has caught fire, and it’s being pushed by a group whom many conservatives would tell you embodies the broken engine or rotted tree stump in the example. To the extent any of this is about Trump, it’s classic cooptation of a rebellious ethic by an establishment outfit for profit. But as I say, it’s not really about Trump apart from encouragement to pay lip service to getting tough on China and so forth. If they really wanted Republicans to tilt towards Trumpism, they’d be urging candidates to go hard right on immigration and start talking up protectionism. But you’ll never see a Beltway Republican outfit pushing those things, so instead we get recommendations about needing more rotten-tree-stump imagery or whatever.
Here’s what I guess is the newsiest bit: The NRSC thinks Trump could win the general election.
Exit question: If “Trump lesson #1” is showing voters that you can’t be bought, how do you that without being a billionaire? Because that’s the root of Trump’s independence, not his plain-spokenness or anti-PC attitude. When push comes to shove, he can afford to turn down million-dollar contributions from, for instance, the Chamber of Commerce. Other candidates can’t. What do they do about that?