I haven’t really known what I will do in this election, as a Republican woman with a long-standing, seemingly inbred distrust of Hillary Clinton. I was rather enthralled with Carly Fiorina as a candidate and had the sense that, were Carly to succeed in her bid to run as the Republican nominee against Hillary, we would see a real contest of values and policies that would have made Americans of all stripes proud.
I was rather more embarrassed and ashamed at the outcome of the Republican primary season, for the blows taken by many of the more moderate candidates, including Fiorina, at the hands of Trump. I fault the media and the candidates for their poor showings, along with the impulses of the broad angry base of Republican voters, who handed Trump one victory after another, because of the high entertainment value he provided, acting more like a brash, unrestrained playground bully in a reality Presidential campaign TV show, beating up weaklings. I kept hoping that that act and his tone would shift once he had won the primary, and he could emerge to lead the Republican party as someone who could then win over the party through his leadership, his vision for the future, his impeccable qualifications and his management capabilities. This fantasy of mine, while admittedly quite the stretch, has now been forever dashed and in its place is a new-found grasp on reality. Here are my take-aways.
- Trump may have his finger on the pulse of a lot of conservative-leaning discontent but he is not winning the support of conservative leaders in how he handles that discontent. He’s lost John Kasich, Meg Whitman, Ted Cruz, and many others.
- Trump has demonstrated zero intellectual rigor in addressing any issue or supporting his “policies” with facts. He both repeats his own opinions a lot and demands we take his word. “Believe me!” This is appealing in its certainty—until he contradicts himself. He avoids answering some questions and shows ignorance of facts in his answers to others. (Yes, Russia has already invaded Crimea.)
- Trump frequently fails to recognize the underlying value basis for why people object to his answers or behavior. To this day, it does not seem like he comprehended why he was attacked for his disparaging treatment of a Muslim Gold Star family. He recently lost the support of Maine’s senior Senator, Susan Collins who fauled Trump for a “constant stream of cruel comments and his inability to admit error or apologize.”
- Trump’s preference for insulting people and tearing them down on totally superficial bases is a waste of our time. Rather than vanquishing failed positions or policies, he kills the messengers. He spent most of the Republican primary eviscerating the usual “contest of ideas” process by turning what should be political debates into a gladiator-type spectacle. But that means that those bad ideas will rise again with new messengers and there is little consensus, which has gotten Republicans nowhere. In contrast, Democrats have winnowed and moved their platform to the left, building a much more consolidated base.
- Trump’s experience as a business man who has always been 100% focused only on his own financial success, has left him with no understanding of what being a politician is all about. He can handle the stump speech and keep a crowd entertained. But he can’t handle the concept of bringing people together, restraining his own impulses to represent the highest values of his constituents (i.e. not directing ire at a baby), or even the most fundamental political skill of choosing to act strategically in the moment to attain a longer-term political goal (such as apologizing to the Khans might have served).
- In contrast, Hillary Clinton has shown tremendous political savvy, intelligence, dignity and willingness to learn. Her mastery of the facts and subtleties of virtually every issue are admirable. Even though I agree that her careless use of a private email server may have put Americans at risk, she didn’t dig in her heels and deny it or attempt to justify her behavior. She apologized and acknowledged her error. Even if some think this reflects her weakness, in light of how Trump continues to dig in his heels when he’s clearly wrong, I think it shows strength of character to apologize, and I wish we would have seen some of this strength in Trump, especially towards the Khans. His failure to do so has cost him the support of many of the top GOP officials who ordinarily would support the Republican nominee. I think this is actually a really big weakness that will possibly will cost him the election.
Trump seemed to demonstrate mastery during the primaries—appealing just to the Republican base—but is now, to the despair of nearly every true conservative, actively shooting himself to bits as the Republican nominee. In this phase and on this stage, the strategic need is for him to broaden his appeal and win over Republicans, Independents and Democrats. Instead, he is successfully narrowing his appeal and losing the support of moderate and educated Republicans everywhere. If he can be this bad in the general election, I can only imagine that his ability to meet the job requirements of being the leader of the free world would be negligible. These concerns were entirely validated when Trump showed little understanding of what even constitutes a threat to U.S. security, when he started to shoot from the hip making misguided statements that border on being treasonous, without even appreciating how it would be perceived by the security community.
Not surprisingly, the news is now filled with reports of defections from the Trump camp, including many of the GOP’s top leaders and dozens of those involved in the issue that is front and center for mainstream Republicans, national security. Most recently, former CIA head, Michael Morrell published an OpEd calling Trump an “unwitting agent of Russia” and endorsing Hillary. More importantly, our senior Senator from Maine, Susan Collins, herself a shining light among Republican women who happens to Chair the Senate’s Homeland Security oversight committee, issued a statement saying that Trump’s proclivity for bullying and invective would make an already perilous world even more dangerous.
And I’m with her (Susan Collins). I really care about national security. When any candidate receives the kind of condemnation Trump has received from Republicans who really understand defense and are strong national security hawks, I have to admit, Trump is simply no longer an option. I am already starting to take a better look at Hillary without the standard Republican lens and finding that, when compared with the alternative, she looks pretty darn good.
[Guest authored by Claudia Anderson.]