Donald Trump has already been the subject of one attack ad by Senator Rand Paul, and other candidates are reportedly planning to launch similar attacks in the coming months. I believe this will be a serious mistake.
I should begin by pointing out that I have not been a Trump supporter. In fact, in a July 2015 essay I noted that, though he is forthright in expressing his views about the serious problems facing the country, he is prone to demonize those who disagree with him. More important, he seems unwilling to apologize even for grievous offenses such as questioning the heroism of John McCain. Neither characteristic is desirable in a leader.
If I am not a supporter of Trump, why then do I reject the other candidates’ war on him?
First, and most obviously, because it violates the sensible “Reagan rule” that Republicans should avoid attacking one another, which merely provides fodder for their Democratic opponents. Instead, they should focus on important issues.
More importantly, because the attack seems based on a false view of Trump’s phenomenal rise and continuing lead in the polls. The other candidates evidently believe the public has been fooled by his bombastic style and celebrity status. That notion not only insults the voters’ intelligence—it is also essentially wrong.
The real reason for Trump’s popularity is that Americans are increasingly disgusted with the refusal of officeholders to do the jobs they were elected to do. This is especially true of Republican officeholders.
Let’s give President Obama and other Democrats their due. They did not promise to correct the mistakes of the present health care system, shrink the size of government, solve the problem of illegal immigration, end overregulation, control the deficit, and carry out dozens of other reforms. Republicans did, time and again. And time and again they failed to live up to their promises.
What many other candidates seem not to see is that Trump is not the only one to have risen dramatically in the polls. Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and John Kasich have also. Fiorina and Carson because, like Trump, they have shown leadership qualities in the private sector (in other words, they have not held elective office and betrayed their promises). Kasich because his record as an officeholder has demonstrated competency and integrity rather than lack of resolve and ineffectiveness.
Some readers will object that those who are planning to attack Trump have no choice but to do so. I would argue that they do have another choice and it is one that would show respect for voters:
To begin with, they can stop spouting nonsense. A prime example is, “I favor comprehensive immigration reform rather than piecemeal efforts.” The implication of that line is that there can be no first steps; instead, everything must be done at once. This is not only absurd—it is a convenient prescription for inaction. As Lao Tzu rightly pointed out, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Even more importantly, the candidates can follow every promise of what they will do if elected with a clear explanation of exactly how they will do it. By now we all know that every Republican candidate favors (or at least claims to favor) creating an effective health care system, making Social Security solvent, eliminating bureaucratic bloat, and so on. The only difference among the candidates is how they will achieve these ends.
The voters need more to base their decisions on than the number and kinds of attacks the candidates make against one another. They need to assess which candidates have reasonable and creative ideas and which do not. And the only way they can do this is through substantive campaign messages and meaningful debates. Instead of assaulting Trump, the other candidates should try to persuade us of the superiority of their ideas. That is the only honorable way.
Copyright © 2015 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved