The political story this year was supposed to be a familiar one: A member of the Bush family was going to begin a successful march to the Republican nomination, and a member of the Clinton family was going to do the same thing on the Democratic side. Through June 30, Jeb Bush had raised $114.1 million, the most of any candidate, and Hillary Clinton had raised $62.7 million, the second most of any candidate and nearly five times as much as her closest challenger, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Since money generally augurs victory in American politics, it looked as if everything was going the way the pundits had predicted. But things began to change once the candidates began campaigning in earnest, especially on the Republican side. By the end of August, Donald Trump was leading in all the polls, and he was receiving the lion’s share of media coverage, even if most of that coverage was negative.
There are many reasons for the current success of the Trump campaign. One is the contemptuous way the Republican establishment has treated Republican voters for decades. That contempt became obvious after the Republicans solidified their control of the House and gained control of the Senate last fall. Despite campaigning against the excesses of the Obama administration, the Republicans did nothing to counter Obama’s executive amnesty for illegal immigrants, and the Republicans even worked hard to give Obama all he wanted on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Indeed, House Majority Leader John Boehner removed from leadership any House Republicans who had voted against the TPP. The Republican establishment’s role in paving the way for Trump has been noted by a variety of observers, including those dismissive of Trump. Peter Spiliakos, while describing Trump as “a grotesque figure,” notes that “The Republican establishment has created a sense among many members of the Party’s coalition that it doesn’t matter what politicians say during the election season, and it doesn’t matter which politician wins.”
Then there is the fact that Trump refuses to back down. The media castigated him for “insulting” John McCain and Megyn Kelly, both during and after the initial Republican debate, and predicted that these “insults” doomed his candidacy. Instead, Trump continued to rise in the polls. More recently, Trump had his bodyguards remove Univision’s Jorge Ramos from one of his events; no one predicted afterward that Trump would plummet in the polls as a result. It appears that many voters agreed with Trump when he told Kelly, at that first debate, “I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either.”
But Trump’s rise cannot be understood apart from the issues on which he has focused his campaign: trade and immigration. In mid-August, a CNN poll found that 45 percent of Republicans viewed Trump as the candidate best suited to handle the economy, and 44 percent thought him the candidate best suited to handle illegal immigration. Voter approval of Trump on those issues transcended his own support; 33 percent of those who gave Trump top marks on the economy planned on voting for someone else, as did 29 percent of those who rated him the best candidate to handle illegal immigration. Since then, Trump has continued to rise in the polls while doubling down on both issues, telling CNN that he favors imposing tariffs on automakers who shifted production out of the United States and unveiling an immigration plan, on which he sought the advice of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), with “three core principles”: “A nation without borders is not a nation”; “a nation without laws is not a nation”; and “a nation that does not serve its own citizens is not a nation.” Trump’s immigration plan also noted that “Decades of disastrous trade deals and immigration policies have destroyed our middle class.”
This was not music to the ears of peddlers of the conventional wisdom, such as the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, who, in the space of a single column, denounced Trump as “a pied piper of intolerance,” “a Joe McCarthy type who tries to thrive by dividing and frightening us,” and a proponent of “ugly nativism.” But it is Trump’s rejection of the globalism championed by Friedman and the other mouthpieces of our elite that is the principal reason for his rise in the polls. Sanders, too, has narrowed the gap with Hillary, even though his opposition to free trade and skepticism of open borders led National Review to smear him as a national socialist.
If we do avoid the widely predicted coronations of Jeb and Hillary, it will be in large part because the voters’ rejection of globalism is finally strong enough to overcome all the forces that have long succeeded in imposing it on a largely unwilling nation.