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Dear Grand Old Party — particularly all candidates, consultants, and media:
I know how you want to respond to this. Don’t do it. You’re outraged — it’s crazy, unworkable, and a political disaster. I agree. I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with you on everything, but you’re right about that.
But here’s what you should have learned by now: When you furiously attack Trump, even on policy, you make his fans ever more defensive and ever more loyal. Moreover, to debate policy with Trump is to wrestle Proteus. Lay hand on him and he changes shape. Two blinks ago he supported complete amnesty. On air today he said he’d round up and deport everyone, including children born here. (He can’t, by the way.) But he also says he’ll let most of them right back in. The actual written plan says only that he’ll deport all aliens with criminal convictions. What’s real? Don’t bother trying to figure it out; it’ll be different tomorrow.
So what can you do? First, take a deep breath and don’t rant. Trump’s fans like seeing you rant. If you want to beat him, you need to show that won’t work anymore. Stay calm. Be purposeful. Take smart advice, such as using the tactics Quin Hillyer suggests:
[Use] ridicule — not of the candidate’s supporters, but of the candidate himself. Turn his own supporters against him by using humor to make him look like a pathetic loser. People like Trump feed off of anger directed at him, and feed off of other direct attacks. But they can’t stand being ridiculed. And when the humor carries an obvious underlying truth about their lack of character or lack of “cool,” or some other flaw, then their supporters stop seeing the candidate as a strong messenger and start seeing him as an embarrassment. … Find a way to convince would-be supporters of the offensive candidate that electing him will harm their own well-being, especially their economic well-being. He can’t be their champion if he would actually hurt their pocketbooks.
Second, if you haven’t yet, you need to recognize that Trump has hit a genuine chord with many voters. His proposal is not serious, but the issue is serious. You will have to promote other serious answers. Voters are pretty sure they know where Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and maybe even Ted Cruz are on this — and they don’t consider that a serious answer. If there is no alternative, Trump’s will be seen as the only offer on the table, and he will not go away. I do not think this is how Scott Walker wanted to focus his campaign, but there’s a crying need for leadership, and the shape of the field is such that he may be the one best positioned to provide it. The ball’s in your court, Governor.
Third, you do need to show this is out of the Republican mainstream. But you won’t be able to do that by attacking it as you would an outrageous proposal from a serious candidate. You do it by not taking it too seriously. By poking gentle fun at it. By marveling that someone who thought Mitt Romney was too tough is now playing this game. And it is a game: “Deporting” people to let them back in immediately is as big a sham as any politician has ever come up with. By laughing at the absurdities and the inconsistencies. By pointing out that he’s become a politician — just one with big, incredible, amazing, marvelous empty promises.
But, that said, you do want to make people think. This plan requires a massive, unworkable expansion of government power. Don’t attack just on principle — “You objected to Obama’s unilateral amnesty, but you’ll support Trump’s unilateral overreach?” Consider how this overreach could eventually affect ordinary Americans.
This is a big-government plan, and we can secure the border without that.