7 March 2016

To beat Trump, claim his fans

By Russ Read

If Republicans are to make a last stand to take down the seemingly insurmountable Trump juggernaut, it’s going to take a major mental reset on the part of his competition.

Publications of all political bents produced plans to gather together and fight the Trump fervor, but what may be more baffling than the steadfast support Trump has received is the tardiness of the calls to rally against him.

Besides the late hour, it’s going to take much more than simple platitudes and twitter hashtag campaigns to defeat Donald Trump’s cult of personality; it’s going to take empathy for the people who support him.

First, it is crucial that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio understand that contrary to most politicians, Donald Trump has fans, not supporters. Fan is an abbreviation of ‘fanatic,’ a person who is filled with excessive zeal for a cause or idea. Fanatics, unlike supporters, will often follow the object of their affection beyond normal reason, whereas supporters come and go on a whim.

There is a massive difference between zeal and support, with zeal the naturally stronger emotion. Fans of Donald Trump are not supporters of his policies or ideas, they are fans of what he represents. “Make America great again” will always overtake the usual Republican Party talking points that have been consistently rehashed by candidate after candidate.

The best thing Trump’s competitors can do is make fans of their policies by packaging them in a digestible form for the frustrated, blue-collar Republican voter. Fortunately, Republicans have been successful at this before.

Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign ad “It’s morning in America again” was an excellent example of how conservatives can rally people around ideas. The ad doesn’t focus on talking points, it barely even mentions Reagan. Instead, it focuses on action and results.

Rubio seems to have an understanding of the importance of inspiring conservatives, presenting himself as the next generation of the Republican Party. Indeed, his campaign slogan “a new American century” inspires some of the feelings that Reagan evoked, but his general argument tends to center around what is wrong, as opposed to what his ideas can make right. Making an appeal to working-class Republicans, showing that free markets and conservative ideals can work for them is key to Rubio’s deposing of Trump.

Cruz has the opposite problem. His rebellion against the establishment seems to have struck a chord with Republicans who feel disenfranchised by the GOP, but Cruz’s ability to make enemies all too often outweighs his ability to draw people into the fold. Cruz needs to show Trump fans that protectionist economic policies will harm American workers in the long run. Additionally, he needs to make himself the candidate of the entire party, as opposed to engaging in divisive rhetoric. Trump is already seen as the rebel candidate, Cruz will not be able to outdo him on that point.

Both men must create momentum instead of reacting to Trump’s. To create it, Cruz and Rubio must make Republicans fans of ideas instead of a bombastic, dangerous personality.

Russ Read is a foreign policy & Pentagon reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.