Donald Trump is leading GOP polls going into the 2016 primary.
Other than the Donald himself, precious few would have predicted that. Armchair pundits are dreaming up new litmus tests that either suggest that you can’t be conservative if you don’t support Trump or that you can’t be conservative if you do. Professional pundits are in equal parts cheering Trump on or scratching their heads and wondering how it’s possible that a “walking combover” (thanks, Kira Davis, for that image) is resonating with such a broad range of Americans.
But resonating he is. If you turn on talk radio, he’s mentioned on every station, yet he’s picky with the shows he appears on. He capitalizes on his own bad publicity in a way that none of his opponents have been able to match and they’re not happy about it. Whether his opponents were fellow GOP candidates, pundits, or average American citizens, they’ve said everything they could think of to marginalize “the Donald.”
He’s not a serious candidate. He’s not even a real conservative.
He used to be a Democrat.
He shouldn’t be allowed to participate in a debate with real candidates.
They’ve called his supporters crazy. And if you think that’s bad, it’s nothing compare to what he’s saying to marginalize himself.
Those other countries aren’t sending their best people… They’re sending rapists and criminals.
He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like the guys who didn’t get captured.
Any other Republican who spoke in the way Trump does would be staring down the barrel of a cut-rate book deal and a few late night interviews on the road to “has-been” obscurity. So why isn’t Trump going the way of Akin and Mourdoch?
Some claim that it’s what he’s saying. He is demanding we talk about issues that most other candidates avoid taking head on. He’s blunt to the point of rudeness about illegal immigration, the failures of our current politicians, and anyone who dares to challenge him.
Some say it’s the way he says things. The fact that he does not back down once he takes a stance, that he refuses to apologize for what he thinks, and that he patently ignores the rules of political correctness that govern the speech patterns of most other candidates.
Those are certainly factors, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Back in 2012, even those who couldn’t stand former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had to begrudgingly recognize how well he handled the media. He deftly turned questions back on reporters and demanded that they stay on topic. Trump does the same, only he does it better. He eats his own bad press for breakfast, and then he stretches and goes out to create more.
While other candidates tiptoe around sensitive topics and avoid proverbial “third rail” issues, Trump grabs the third rail and rides it like he’s a kid at an amusement park.
And really, that’s what he is. Whether the attention is positive or negative, everyone is talking about Trump – and that’s his favorite subject.
But there is a way to marginalize the Donald, and as unlikely as it seems, Senator Lindsey Graham may have stumbled on it by accident: don’t fight back. Make a show of destroying your phone, and don’t take the bait to be drawn into a tit-for-tat personal battle. When you attack someone whose end goal is attention, you give him exactly what he wants. When you say “he doesn’t deserve to be on the debate stage,” he gets to defend himself and people will listen. When you call his supporters “crazies,” he gets the opportunity to engage you publicly.
Instead of marginalizing him, why not use him? Let him kick down the doors of the topics we’re not supposed to talk about, and then leave him out of the conversation when moving forward. Let him say what he wants about Senator John McCain, for example, and then respond:
It’s disappointing that someone who wants to be President of this great nation would speak in such a manner about a man who defended it honorably. But what’s truly despicable is the way thousands of veterans have been treated by this President and by former Secretary Clinton.”
When you demand an apology, all you’re doing is giving someone who loves nothing more than talking about himself another opportunity to do so.