How did Donald Trump manage to completely outwit GOP establishment candidates? Stephen Moore of The Heritage Foundation says he learned how.
Moore spoke on a panel with Fox News’ Juan Williams and The Washington Examiner’s Michael Barone yesterday at John Mauldin’s Strategic Investment Conference. All three agreed Trump has carried off the biggest upset to the political system in 50 years. But Moore described two firsthand encounters he experienced late last year that explain a lot.
First, Moore, now a consultant to the Trump campaign, received a call from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who asked if they could meet at the Biltmore in Phoenix. Moore complied and showed up, finding a room of 25 people.
Bush, by many accounts an outstanding governor who cut taxes, balanced budgets and vastly improved Florida’s education system for poor and minority children, talked policy issues for 20 minutes or so and then answered a few questions. Moore quickly realized that the audience consisted of the donor class, the folks who write checks for $50,000 or $100,000.
Three weeks later, he was asked to meet Donald Trump at Hanger C at Love Field airport in Dallas. When Moore arrived, he found a crowd of 5,000 people or so. Many of them appeared to be construction workers and truck drivers, but Moore was surprised to see more than a few Hispanics and blacks.
About 40 minutes later, the Trump jet landed and the candidate exited his plane and waved to the crowd. When he got to the podium, he looked at the audience and then proclaimed, “You are my people.”
The fact that Trump is widely rumored to have stiffed hundreds of construction workers over the last three decades turns out to be irrelevant. He went out and talked to real voters while all the other candidates tried to raise enough money to outlast each other and make it beyond the first round of primaries. In the end, they all killed each other off.
Moore believes Trump could win big by flipping the electoral map upside down and reversing trends established when Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992. Juan Williams and Michael Barone weren’t so sure.
All three agreed that Trump understood the rage of white working-class voters directed not only at President Obama but also at former President George W. Bush. These folks haven’t done well for at least 15 years and they were particularly hard hit by the great recession.
Moore said he thought Trump could crack the “blue wall” in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and even put New York in play. Williams suggested that the growing number of Hispanics in states like Georgia and Arizona might put those traditional GOP strongholds in play for Democrats.
Barone, a keen student of politics, questioned the likelihood of both scenarios. What we are seeing is the collision of an irresistible force, widespread discontent, with a series of immovable objects, steady polarization, partisan purity and very few voters changing, he argued. “Is it really an earthquake?” he asked.
Barone has a point. He didn’t say it, but today fewer families mind if their children marry outside their race or religion. However, if they marry outside their political party it’s unacceptable. Seriously.
Two weeks ago, Barone said he would have picked Hillary Clinton, but now he is leaning toward Trump. Voters clearly want change, and the former Secretary of State is the antithesis of change.
Barone also noted that the Republican party has been doing quite well with disgruntled white working-class voters during the Obama years and has little to show for it during presidential election years. The mid-terms are another story.
“White suburban women will decide [the election],” Williams predicted. “All the polls are very close.” Moore conceded Republican females could be a problem for Trump.
Turnout will be critical, the three agreed. Moore challenged Barone’s view on white middle-class voters, saying many of them simply didn’t turn out for Romney in 2012.
But Hillary Clinton may have the same turnout problem with young voters. Romney virtually tied Obama in 2012 with voters over 30 years old, but lost the under-30 group by a whopping 5 million votes.
Williams predicted that most Bernie Sanders voters will go for Clinton. Barone didn’t disagree, but suggested she would find it difficult to get the same kind of turnout.
President Obama’s approval ratings climbed to the 50 percent area in recent months, the same exact area where President Reagan’s numbers stood in May 1988. While that should theoretically help Clinton, Barone pointed out her approval ratings have declined at the same time as Obama’s have climbed. Some think the widespread disgust with both Clinton and Trump has made Obama more popular.
That said, Moore argued that people still don’t want “a third Obama term,” though the change they are seeking may not be represented by Donald Trump. Moreover, Democrats “know they have a dog” in Hillary Clinton. He quickly added that the term “dog” should be interpreted to mean weak candidate, not something sexist. Clinton has obvious likeability problems, but many Republicans and Democrats alike view Trump as a crackpot pandering to Americans' worst fears and anxiety.
Moore said three modern presidents -- Reagan, Bill Clinton and Obama -- have true charisma, and Bubba had the most. The contrast makes it that much harder for his wife.
Williams observed that many among the moneyed class, “people in this room,” might find it difficult to support Trump even though they lean Republican. Up until now, Trump has rendered them irrelevant, but there are five months left in the race, and billions will be spent.
The moderator of the lively session, the widely respected George Friedman of Geopolitical Futures, barely got to ask a question. He did note that among the audience, 36 percent said they would never vote for Clinton and 22 percent will never vote for Trump. “Whoever wins, we will have a very unpopular president,” he concluded.