Not everything about the “Trump Effect” is harmful for our politics. Of course, I think it would be bad for Republicans if Donald Trump were to become our nominee, because he would lose in a general election. I can’t imagine the shallow billionaire with no particular commitment to a governing — much less ideological — point of view could sustain the scrutiny and rigor of a general election. But setting that aside, perhaps his candidacy is useful for other reasons.
I stand by my prediction that Trump won’t win one Republican primary, but maybe he has provided some teachable moments that are useful for the American body politic as a whole. Chief among the points that Republicans, in particular, can learn from is that voters appreciate candor and bluntness. Telling your critics to “get over it” and shouting down blowhards with a loud “so what” every now and then isn’t a bad thing. Being unapologetic about your wealth and using it to illustrate your abilities and smarts aren’t necessarily negative. Maybe if Mitt Romney had been less apologetic about all the money he made — rather than hiding it or trying to pretend it didn’t mean anything — he would have earned more respect from voters.
I remember when my friend and business partner Haley Barbour was running for governor of Mississippi in 2003. Back then, a lot of people said that being a lobbyist would make him unelectable. The standard media rule book said Barbour was supposed to sheepishly minimize or deny his lobbying experience. Instead, he went to Mississippi voters, told them he was a good lobbyist and promised he would be a good lobbyist for them. The people of Mississippi believed him, and he went on to be a great lobbyist on their behalf — and by any measure, a colossally successful governor.
And, while we’re at it, it’s not good politics to think that just because Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012, candidates should try to be like him. Voters will want a new team and a new approach in 2016. The next president should offer a vivid contrast to our current president. So it is useful to note exactly what image Obama has cultivated. He presents himself as cool, polished, liberal, smooth, aloof, poised and cerebral. What is the opposite of that? Well, The Donald. Trump is by far the most visible, well-known, truly anti-Obama actor so far. He is crass, loud, brash, insulting, vulgar and demeaning — and I think that contrast is what has allowed him to break through during the way-early stages of the campaign. It won’t be enough to sustain him through the primaries, because there is no substance behind the show, but the other candidates need to embrace some parts of his style.
If we get nothing else out of the “Trump Effect,” I hope the GOP and candidates everywhere will take this one lesson to heart: Don’t forget to say what you really think; it might be what almost everybody else is thinking.
Rogers is a contributor to The Washington Post’s PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.