As the final, frenzied push towards the first presidential voting begins, Donald Trump has unveiled a riveting new television ad that perfectly sums up Trumpism in all its xenophobic glory — and also perfectly captures the problem Trumpism has created for the Republican Party.
The ad, which is set to run extensively in Iowa and New Hampshire, has it all. It reiterates his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, and links this directly to the need to combat “radical Islamic terrorism.” It also again vows to “stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our southern border that Mexico will pay for.” All of this leads up to the grand conclusion, in which Trump himself vows to “make America great again.”
But here’s something notable: Trump’s spot looks very much like the heavily-immigration-themed ads run by California Governor Pete Wilson in the 1990s. Wilson helped secure passage of the infamous “Proposition 187,” which sought to bar illegal immigrants from a range of state services and is widely believed to have driven Latinos away from the California GOP and set it on a path into the demographic wilderness.
There's a reason for that, and of course we know that Pete Wilson's anti-Latino ads were the beginning of the end of the California GOP.
So where is Trump and the national GOP, 20 years later?
Now, it remains unlikely that Trump will actually win the nomination. But even if he doesn’t, the question then becomes: Whither the forces Trump has unleashed inside the GOP? Trump’s candidacy — and to a somewhat lesser extent, that of Ted Cruz — is framed around the idea that the way to win the White House is by unleashing the power of white backlash. This is plainly obvious in Trump’s case, but Cruz, too, has repeatedly suggested a GOP victory must be powered by evangelicals and “Reagan Democrats,” i.e., culturally conservative blue collar whites. Cruz has engaged in more sophisticated demagoguery about Muslims and has flatly ruled out any form of legalization for undocumented immigrants.
By contrast, Marco Rubio’s long-term strategy seems to be framed broadly (though he has diverted from it at times) around the idea that the way to win is to make peace with diversifying, culturally evolving America, in hopes of cutting into Dem voter groups. (Demographics expert Ruy Teixeira’s hard look at the numbers suggests this may be the better course.) Which will GOP voters choose? We’ll soon find out. And if it’s the latter, and Rubio wins the nomination, how far he has to go in pandering to the forces Trump and Cruz are unleashing in order to get there will also bear watching.
With four weeks until the Iowa caucuses and five until the New Hampshire primaries, it's looking more and more like a two-man race between Trump and Cruz. The March 1 "Super South" primary could give either one of these goofballs a commanding lead as well. The smart money still seems to be on Rubio as the great Latino moderate savior of the GOP, but there's no way Rubio can win the nomination without playing to the same bigots that are powering Trump and Cruz, and currently the folks backing those two represent the majority of GOP primary voters, not just "some fringe elements".
Still, history reminds us that a large national lead in January means absolutely nothing.
At this point in -- 2004: Dean +15 2008 (D): H. Clinton +21.2 (R): Giuliani +2.8 2012: Gingrich +2.4 https://t.co/8pTnsrf0Ds— Past Frontrunners (@pastfrontrunner) January 3, 2016
So we'll see where all this goes.