randombio.com | political commentary
Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Is Trump Out?

Trump needs to demonstrate that he can articulate strategic policy.

P undits are saying Donald Trump lost Iowa because of his nasty campaign style and the dogged determination of his opponents. But I believe the proximate reason was his no-show at the last debate. Trump's absence was a clear sign that he believed debating the issues would do more harm than good. It was a calculated decision.

The phony pretendy-pouty-hurt expression on Trump's face when Bill O'Reilly at Fox News interviewed him showed that his supposed tiff with Megyn Kelly was just an act. He wanted us to believe it was all emotional posturing—an assertion of dominance—but the real reason he skipped class that day was that he calculated that debating would hurt his campaign. And the voters recognized the truth of it.

There is no reason to doubt his calculation. But it showed the voters Trump's biggest weakness. For months Trump's fans as well as his enemies have waited for him to articulate a specific and workable economic and border plan. Not because we'll vote for or against the plan, but because articulating a plan would show that he can actually articulate a plan, and do so without being a world-class chef of word salad.

True, his website has some reasonably well thought out viewpoints, but can Trump articulate them? Can he stand up on a stage and convince us? The answer, it seems, is that he does not believe he can, or he would have jumped at the chance to demonstrate it. The ability to articulate and convince may be the one thing The Donald is not confident about.

Bush II had the same problem. Why did Bush invade Iraq? After all these years, I am still not sure. The WMD argument was never entirely convincing. I still believe that Bush's real goal was to get our troops out of Saudi Arabia. That was one of the reasons bin Laden gave for the WTC attacks. Our troops were there to prevent Saddam from grabbing the Arabian oil fields as he had done in Kuwait. This would have caused a widespread Middle East conflagration that would have forced us to invade Saudi Arabia, which would have been a disaster. But the only way to get them out was to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

In other words, Bush's policy was based on sound, long-term strategic reasoning. But he never tried to convince us. Like Donald Trump, he was very smart but not articulate. Like Trump, Bush believed the American people were incapable of understanding strategic arguments, so he substituted one that appealed to emotion. Like Trump, Bush II overestimated the current of anti-intellectualism in the country, and it cost us dearly.

Bush finally managed to wrap up the Iraq conflict, only to have the news media successfully discredit his WMD argument in the eyes of the public. This in turn allowed his successor throw the entire effort away.

Misunderestimating the intelligence of the public is not an easy thing to do. But Bush II accomplished it. Trump is not as tongue-tied as George W. “put food on your family” Bush, but he is making the same mistake. The intellectual class calls Trump a populist; conservative pundits savage him for not being intellectual enough, while his supporters praise him for courageously expressing their views and for defying the establishment.

There are good reasons why a candidate must do both. Ideas percolate outward from actions and define the nature of conservatism. David Boaz once spoke disparagingly of the court intellectuals of the Left (Keynes, Rawls, and Krugman), but they perform a vital function. Without informed thought we on the Right would be directionless and defenseless against the opposition.

There is no doubt that PC is a grave threat to our civilization at the moment. The very fact that the British parliament would seriously debate banning Trump from entering the UK demonstrates why someone like Trump is so desperately needed. But we need more than an anti-PC crusader in a president. Can Trump also articulate a sophisticated foreign policy strategy? His candidacy will succeed or fail on that question.

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