I’m not a Republican voter. I could have voted for Paul Findley, but I didn’t live here. I study in detail what people do, and I listen carefully to what they say. But I’m speaking from the outside here.
Some people might say that Republican voters don’t know what they want. More than a dozen serious politicians are risking their political reputations, and lots of other people’s money, hoping that Republican voters still aren’t sure who they want.
I think that Republican voters are expressing what they want pretty clearly. They want a political outsider. Maybe that’s their main message so far. That’s news.
In 2011, after Donald Trump made all the right moves to enter the Republican presidential primaries, he dropped out in May: “After considerable deliberation and reflection, I have decided not to pursue the office of the presidency. This decision does not come easily or without regret.” He was polling about 14%, behind Mike Huckabee. Besides Trump, every other name among the dozen Republicans that Opinion Research asked about in May 2011 was an elected office holder, present or former. Trump had the highest negative ratings of anyone, 64%.
No longer. When Morning Consult asked those who watched last week’s debate, who won, the top three were Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump, and Ben Carson, none of whom ever held public office. 60% chose a non-politician. When asked who they would vote for, the same top three emerged.
NBC took a broader online poll in the days after the debate. Marco Rubio just edged out Carson for third as debate winner. When asked who appeared “most presidential”, Marco was out and Jeb came in, edging out Carson for third. A total of 44% of all Republicans think a real estate tycoon and reality show star, a tech company CEO, and a neurosurgeon look “more presidential” than the dozen politicians in the race. 54% would vote for one of the outsiders, who take the top three spots.
We now have the most Republican Congress since 1928, but Republicans don’t like their own politicians. Polls by Pew Research show that only 41% of Republicans surveyed approve of the Republican Congressional leadership. That number was 60% in 2011 and 78% in 1995. In 1995, 80% of Republicans thought their party’s leaders were keeping their campaign promises. Now it’s 37%. The proportion of Republican voters who disapprove of the new Republican leadership in Congress jumped from 44% in February, right after they were elected, to 55% in May.
But being an outsider is not enough. Republican voters want a confrontational outsider. Not necessarily a belligerent lover of personal confrontations like Trump. Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson act more decorously, but their policies are belligerent.
Here is Carson’s website on how he would fight in the Middle East: “If a bully faction or bully nation is beating up on those with whom it disagrees, we should immediately stop them with brutal force, if necessary, because it is the right thing to do. If that were done consistently, such incidents would cease almost immediately. I mention political correctness here because it only hampers effectiveness. For example, a lot of time, effort, and lives were wasted in Fallujah, Iraq, because the terrorists were hiding among the people and using them as shields. Political correctness dictates that we play their game. I would have announced via bullhorn and leaflets that in 72 hours Fallujah was going to become part of the desert because there were substantial numbers of terrorists hiding there. This would have given people time to flee.”
Carly Fiorina said in May that she would “stand up and arm Ukraine”, and conduct more aggressive military exercises in the Baltic nations, to “send a very clear message to Vladimir Putin.” In last week’s debate, she went further: “Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn’t talk to him at all. We talked way too much to him. What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland, I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. I'd probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.”
Political outsiders and their supporters owe nothing to the cumbersome process of governing in a democracy. They haven’t tried it. They don’t appreciate the checks and balances built into our system by centuries of political evolution of all three branches.
These political outsiders trumpet their success in systems where things get done because they say so. They seem to believe that if they say, “I’m sending more troops to Germany,” or “The Mexicans will pay for that fence,” everybody will hop to it. That’s not presidential. That’s what dictators think.
That’s okay with many conservative voters. Earlier this month, 55% of Republicans surveyed said they would “support the military stepping in to take control of the federal government” if elected leaders pursued Constitutional politics they didn’t agree with.
That’s a dangerous political mood supporting dangerous candidates.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 22, 2015