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Yesterday, Jon raised the issue of how Republican candidates should deal with Donald Trump’s presence in the presidential race. That happens to also have been the topic of my weekly column in the Orange County Register. My diagnosis:
That Trump’s candidacy is getting some traction is partially the fault of his GOP rivals. In recent years, many mainstream Republicans have abandoned any criticism of illegal immigration because of fears that they will be branded racists. But, as the recent murder of 32-year-old Kate Steinle – in the sanctuary city of San Francisco – by an illegal immigrant demonstrates, falling silent on these problems doesn’t make them go away. How many innocent lives, exactly, ought to be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness?
That timidity among Republican candidates has left the field wide open for people like Trump. It’s a similar dynamic to the one in Europe, where elite aversion to talking about real problems related to immigration works to the benefit of the overtly nationalistic, fascist parties that are the only ones even willing to broach the topic. Crazy doesn’t beat sane. But it does beat silent.
Thus, the first step to undermining Trump’s ascendancy is for more mainstream Republican candidates to start taking the issues surrounding illegal immigration seriously. Carly Fiorina – who has consistently been one rhetorical step ahead of her GOP rivals – got off to a good start on Sunday when she noted on ABC’s “This Week” that, “I think Donald Trump taps into an anger that I hear every day. People are angry that a commonsense thing like securing the border or ending sanctuary cities is somehow considered extreme.”
Undermining Trump on immigration, however, is necessary but not sufficient. The Donald happened to luck into a resonant policy issue, but it’s style, not substance, that fuels his candidacy. It’s that personality – truculent, unbowed, politically incorrect to the point of tactlessness – that appeals to Republicans fatigued by mealy-mouthed politicians.
This is where things get tricky for [RNC Chairman Reince] Priebus and anyone who’d prefer that Trump go away rather than publicly conflating his bull-in-a-china-shop brand with the GOP. Because The Donald has positioned himself as an antagonist to the status quo, attempts to marginalize him only further his cause. Cut him out of the presidential debates, and you only accentuate his case that he’s the one man who scares the establishment. It’s generally a mistake to murder a man so hungry for martyrdom. What Republicans need is someone who can challenge him on his own terms.
That’s where Chris Christie comes in.
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