By: Adam Stromme
Immediately after passing the threshold of 1,237 delegates in order to clinch the Republican nomination on Thursday, Donald Trump gave a policy speech at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, North Dakota; a state at the very epicenter of the shale natural gas boom. Without any excuse of competition from Republican contenders to derail his notoriously short attention span on schoolyard bully-like attacks, the moment was pitched by many as Trump’s first major opportunity to step up and demonstrate to the nation his capacity to act as a mature Statesman and speak authoritatively on the issues that matter most.
But, as an understatement, the reality was somewhat different.
As Vox’s David Roberts notes, and even a cursory glance at the speech confirms, the introduction of a substantive policy discussion was utterly at odds with Trump’s otherwise famously rambling and incoherent speeches. As Roberts writes: “The difference in tone and affect between the parts he read and the parts he freestyled was almost comical. He would squint at the teleprompter for a moment, read a fully formed English sentence with correct grammar and multisyllabic words [sic] … and then grin, look out at the audience, and fire off a few hortatory exclamations.”
The difference in tone and affect between the parts he read and the parts he freestyled was almost comical.
In one regard, this fumbling policy discussion was exactly as the commentators painted it. With the road open to November, the easy work of ginning up support of the base and dishing out vitriolic criticism of fellow candidates is over. Now, he must showcase his willingness to serve the interests of the Old Guard of the Republican Party that he has spent the last six months estranging. In addition, Trump must demonstrate to the electorate that he is capable not only of best expressing their anger, but of putting solutions to the anger’s underlying problem into motion.
He must prove to not only have the loudest mouth, but the strongest hands.
But in this regard, Trump is quite rightly self conscious about his hands. Commentators have noticed that the paranoia of bringing the offensive and insufficiently doctrinaire candidate to the general election have meant that Conservative allies have focused upon the defects of Clinton instead of the merits of Trump (ignoring Fox’s ridiculous attempt). While the Party struggles to close ranks around the nominee, to point out the gold is only gilded risks a painful and detail oriented reckoning with a base that Trump has proven utterly incapable of understanding beyond his own slew of business platitudes.
Now, he must showcase his willingness to serve the interests of the Old Guard of the Republican Party that he has spent the last six months estranging.
This, sadly, is only the beginning for Trump. His impulsive decision to debate Bernie Sanders, a candidate with similarly strong poll numbers in his own demographics, was swiftly rescinded by pulling rank, citing his desire to debate the eventual nominee. But Trump cannot avoid detailed policy discussions forever, and the more the election crystalizes around issues, the more liable he is to receive damaging broadsides from reality: a fate he has thus far been able to avoid in the homogenous and substance-free atmosphere of the Republican debates.
This election cycle has proven an unusual one. It has been driven by insurgent outliers, as Republicans officials chase the very base they have whipped into a frenzy and Democratic officials grow increasingly unpopular as they strain to hold the center while the primary season continues to march on. To win, candidates will need to balance the ideological zeal for change of the base with the status quo friendly specifics of the Party. As the Democratic nomination approaches its likely resolution in California on June 7th, the rhythm of the general will begin to emerge. It is unclear what the eventual balance will be.
This, sadly, is only the beginning for Trump.
For the Democratic race, the lingering question remains: how will Hillary balance her most valuable credentials as an experienced member of previous administrations, and her promise to represent Obama’s third term, in the face of the unexpectedly strong Left-wing challenge Sanders presented? Unlike the Republican race, Sanders’ challenge represented a formidable race to both strains of the Democratic party, moderate and Progressive, and won a total of 21 contests. And as other analysts have noted, his demographic may very well prove instrumental in taking home the nomination.
For the Republican race, as with so much else, uncertainty lingers. Previously fringe candidates like Pat Buchanan were previously locked out of the mainstream by pointing to their factional interests and simple Party discipline. Since the decline in Republican’s electoral representation, the luxury of indulging in the rules of civilized governance have proved too costly, and fear mongering have filled the void, as has been noted elsewhere.
Trump’s popular support is the blossoming of a fetid fruit. The product of decades of “poisoning the water” of political respectability, to quote one political scientist, his support is reliant upon those who are convinced, with some justice, they have been sold out. And now with the forced blessing of one half of the most powerful political system, he will have to give many more strained speeches like the one he gave on Thursday to win a more enthusiastic backing from the men behind the curtain.
Although he likes to characterize himself as smart and independent, it is increasingly obvious that Trump has very little idea about the policies he is proposing. And in Washington, like nowhere else, the devil is in the details. To those worried that Trump’s most controversial rhetoric may translate into action, a moderating influence may be welcome. But the influence, beyond being largely indifferent to his scapegoating, is moderate by few other measures. Surrounded by a swath of the Conservative movements most hardline members in a time where the vetting process now demands details over promises, it will be little wonder who from here on out, beyond all the bombastic rhetoric, will really be pulling the strings.