Trump's Anger Appeal
WASHINGTON -- Do not worry about Donald Trump becoming president. Worry, instead, about what his current -- emphasis on current -- stratospheric standing in the polls says about two things: the Republican Party and the other GOP candidates.
Granted, the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll has Trump at 24 percent among Republican and Republican-leaning voters. He was at 4 percent on May 31. The chart for the rest of the crowded field looks like a flat-line electrocardiogram.
Who are these Trump supporters? The Post poll indicates they are not the most ideologically extreme. Among those who identify themselves as very conservative, just 17 percent put Trump at the top of the heap; for them, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker trumps Trump, with 25 percent support.
Trump backers tend to be less well-educated: Among those with no college degree, 32 percent support Trump, compared to a mere 8 percent of those with a college education. They tend to be less affluent: Among those who make less than $50,000 a year, 31 percent back Trump.
They are younger: 28 percent of those between 18 and 49 chose Trump, compared with 20 percent of those older than 50. Surprisingly -- disappointingly -- there is little Trump gender gap: He won the support of 25 percent of men and 23 percent of women. Ladies, I expected better.
But here's why you don't have to worry about Trump becoming president. First, I predict the Post poll will turn out to be his high-water mark; it was mostly conducted before respondents knew of Trump's he's-no-war-hero slur against Arizona Sen. John McCain, and Trump support dropped sharply on the final night of polling, post-McCain remarks.
Second, the poll contains the seeds of Trump's demise. A whopping 62 percent of all those surveyed -- and, tellingly, 31 percent of Republicans -- said they would definitely not vote for him. (The comparable numbers for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are in the low-40s.)
Moreover, 56 percent of all those surveyed, and 54 percent of Republicans, said Trump does not reflect the "core values" of the Republican Party. Even on his now-signature issue, illegal immigration, Trump is out of step; asked whether undocumented Mexican immigrants are mostly undesirable elements like criminals or honest people trying to get ahead, 74 percent of respondents, and 66 percent of Republicans, chose the latter.
Trump's appeal will, hopefully, be fleeting, but it feels different from the flavor-of-the-month parade of GOP front-runners -- Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum -- four years ago. His prominence cannot be attributed to simple celebrity and name-recognition.
More than any of those predecessors, it taps into a fundamental anger among a portion of the electorate. Trump is the un-Reagan -- unsmiling, and unmoored to any ideology other than Trumpism -- but his surly message matches the times.
Keith Koffler, editor of White House Dossier, a conservative website, captured this well for Politico Magazine. "Trump, who seems perpetually angry, is an expression of the angst of conservatives who believe the United States has gotten so deep into a mess that a little extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," he wrote. "What they adore about Trump is that he is a pugilist who has emerged at a time when someone needs to start throwing punches."
Which helps explain why too many of Trump's competitors were so disappointingly tentative in taking him on -- until his McCain comments made it safer to do so.
Consider: Trump questions President Obama's birthplace. He calls undocumented Mexican immigrants "rapists." At the very appearance where he went after McCain, Trump declined to say whether he believes that Obama loves America. But it took his McCain comments to unleash the firestorm. It is a test of the other GOP candidates' character how quickly and how sharply they respond to all of his provocations.
But the Post poll also helps explain the GOP reticence. In a two-way race between Clinton and Bush, she wins by 50-44 among registered voters. A Trump bid draws 20 percent of voters, increasing Clinton's lead to 46-30 over Bush.
For now, anyway. In the end, my confidence that Trump will fizzle comes from Trump himself.
"You can't con people, at least not for long," he wrote in "Trump: The Art of the Deal." "You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don't deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on."
On that, at least, Trump is right.
(c) 2015, Washington Post Writers Group