After the first presidential debate in August, I predicted in a radio interview that Donald Trump would fall in the polls. But immediately thereafter, his poll numbers increased. And although his numbers dipped recently, as of this writing he remains the Republican front-runner. Here is one theory why:
Traditionally, politicians sell themselves and their candidacy by arguing that their policy positions are superior to those of their opponents. Thus far, in the debates and the nonstop wave of interviews featuring the omnipresent Trump, he has offered little to no information regarding his policy ideas. Instead, he is selling himself by arguing that he’s the better candidate because the others are “stupid” (or something similar). This enamors the media — and if the polls are accurate, it is resonating with more than a few voters as well.
Americans are frustrated and distrusting of government. So when a presidential contender publicly calls out political leaders as stupid, many respond approvingly. And of course the media, with its insatiable quest for ratings, provides coverage, coverage and more coverage — magnifying the impact. Trump has either devised a genius, media-fueled communications strategy, or his natural, ego-driven, insulting style is right for the times. Probably a bit of both.
As satisfying for some as it may be to call President Obama, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, etc. “stupid” from an intellectual standpoint, they clearly are not. However — and what I believe to be the irony of the situation — the RESULTS of current decision-makers and the system in which they operate often yield stupid outcomes.
For example: A White House administration from one party wants to add to its legacy by being the first to strike a nonmilitary diplomatic arrangement with Iran. Simultaneously, a congressional delegation from another party refuses to exercise its power to block or replace the proposed arrangement, for fear that their “do- nothing” alternative could be perceived as worse. Both parties want to use this issue as a campaign tool. The result is an arrangement that could lead to a nuclear Iran … a stupid outcome.
A White House administration from one party wants to add to its voter base by relaxing immigration rules and bring more undocumented citizens into the country. Simultaneously, a congressional delegation from another party fears the criticism of addressing the situation so much, that it refuses to address the issue at all. Both parties want to use this issue as a campaign tool. The result is that current federal laws regarding immigration are not enforced … a stupid outcome.
In order for a republic form of government to work correctly, some prerequisites are necessary: The constituency must be informed and engaged, and the rule of law as outlined in the U.S. Constitution must be adhered to. Today, neither prerequisite is consistently in place. Many lawmakers are disregarding the constitutional rule of law, and they are getting away with it because too many people are disengaged. Simply stated, there is not an adequate level of accountability.
The answer is looking at us in the mirror. We must get informed. We must engage. We must hold our leaders accountable. We have the power, but we must use it. Maybe this notion is already manifesting itself in the form of Donald Trump. But I, for one, want to know specifics about what my president is going to do. And my school board, and my city council, and my mayor, and my legislator, and my governor, etc. Either We the People hold our leaders accountable, or the results of the current partisan political system will just be stupid.
Russ Fulcher, a Meridian Republican, is the former majority caucus chair of the Idaho Senate and a 2014 candidate for governor.