What to make of the odd phenomenon of the Trump Bump—Donald Trump’s unlikely surge in some recent polls that puts him among the front-runners in a very crowded GOP field?
To begin with, these early poll numbers don’t mean much. Of course Trump stands out among 17 Republican presidential candidates, most of them not well known except among political news hounds, and some of them not even there. (Stand back, everyone, Jim Gilmore just jumped in!) By contrast, for decades Donald Trump has been in the newspapers and on television and had his name emblazoned in gaudy, shiny letters on tall buildings. Notoriety alone gives him an early advantage with voters.
But he has also surged based on his impolitic statements about Mexican immigrants, whom he characterized as “the worst” their home country has to offer, as layabouts and criminals. He has been partly aided by recent news—such as the violent felon who shot a girl in San Francisco after he was released under a lawless “sanctuary city” policy—but mostly because he’s pandering to a strain of conservative prejudice. A certain amount of the passion against immigration, I am afraid to say, is driven by mere dislike for Mexicans. And on the overall merits, both Trump and his supporters are dead wrong. Mexican immigrants, both legal and illegal, have lower rates of crime and higher rates of work.
They are, in fact, among the most industrious and entrepreneurial people I know. They built that, and how. Which is why a lot of Republicans are mortified by Trump’s surge, which only serve to alienate a Hispanic constituency that is otherwise open to our political message. And then, to add insult to injury, Trump’s more obnoxious supporters will dismiss any critics on the right—including those of us who have spent time in the trenches with the Tea Party—as squishy establishment compromisers.
None of this makes any real sense from a purely intellectual perspective. Trump himself is hardly an avatar of ideological purity. He donated to the Clintons, endorsed Canadian-style socialized medicine, has been pro-choice and pro-gun-control, and has even flip-flopped on immigration, once criticizing Republicans for being too harsh on the issue.
But it would be a mistake to think that any of this is a response to specific policies, either Trump’s or those of the Republican establishment. Rather, it is a response to the hypocrisy, cowardice, and timidity of the establishment, and that’s not something of which we should be too dismissive. (Please take note, Kevin Williamson.)
People give someone like Trump a chance because they’re tired of glib politicians who repeat over-rehearsed lines crafted by consultants to appeal to focus groups. They want someone who will gives it to us straight and come out and say the things everybody else is afraid to say. It’s the same reason they flocked to Ben Carson, who also had a tendency for untactful statements. We may wince when we hear these gaffes, but for voters who are starved for something genuine, they are proof that this is someone who is not afraid. The very fact that what he says is offensive is proof that he must be giving us the unvarnished truth.
The problem is that Trump is giving it to us straight, all right, but it’s straight from the emotional part of the brain, unfiltered not only by tact but by reason or principle.
What his supporters want is someone who will be the nation’s Id. In certain theories of psychology, the “Id” or “It” is the “unconscious” mind driven by raw impulses and appetites—impulses that are usually suppressed, filtered, and harnessed for better ends. So these supporters want something that seems more genuine, precisely because it is so obviously not stifled by any kind of filter.
But a leader who represents the unfiltered, uncontrolled Id is the last thing we need. I say that, not from the perspective of the establishment, which is worried about upsetting the status quo. I say that from the perspective of a small-government radical. The last thing we need is a leader who acts on his uncontrolled impulses. The last thing we need is someone who thinks everything, including government, is about him and his self-aggrandizement and his emotion of the moment.
That’s precisely what we have too much of right now. You know which political figure reminds me the most of Donald Trump? Joe Biden, the famous Senatorial blow-hard who turns every congressional hearing into an arena for personal grandstanding, and who is also famously unable to control his mouth. The only real difference between Biden and Trump? One had bad hair plugs, the other has a cross-hatched double comb-over.
If our goal is to control government, then we also need to control our politicians. Even better, we should want leaders who show an ability to control themselves, according to the dictates of their own principles and a sense of propriety.
Thomas Jefferson got it right: “In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” Nobody was less of a political Id—or a greater contrast to Donald Trump—than George Washington. Yet he represents precisely the ideal to which our politics should aspire: the leader devoid of personal ambition or desire for self-aggrandizement.
America does not need an Id. It needs principles—rational principles about liberty and individual rights—and leaders who will stick to them.