Is The Donald now inevitable? It is increasingly apparent that Mr. Trump is not about to go down in a blaze of bombast, and that President Obama’s pathetic ISIS strategy is boosting the billionaire’s prospects. The recent terror attacks in Paris highlighted Obama’s worst shortcomings, and played to Trump’s strengths.
Nearly every political analyst has underestimated Donald Trump; finally, with only ten weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, many are hiking the odds that he wins the nomination. On Fox News the other night, pundits playing “Candidate Casino” upped their bets on Trump. For Charles Lane and Charles Krauthammer, acknowledgement of the billionaire’s staying power – after months of dismissing his chances -- was a bit humbling.
The capitulation collides headlong with the establishment’s frantic desire to bring Trump down. Backers of the billionaire ascribe that impulse to the repugnant complacency of Washington insiders. They are wrong. The wish to depose the tycoon stems from this: many Republicans do not see him winning a general election against Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democrat nominee.
Several campaigns are said to be conspiring against the Trump candidacy, planning to run negative ads to deflate his balloon. Their frustration is understandable. Trump seems invincible; outrage over his most provocative statements doesn’t dent his confidence or his following. It may take a concerted media assault (which a New York Times editorial called for yesterday) to make voters question his competence or challenge his policies.
In the next two months, Donald Trump could go overboard, offending more Americans who disapprove of his racist comments and xenophobia, and who have twice elected President Obama. The media may pile on, or deny him the airtime that has filled his lungs and diminished his opponents. But -- more powerful than establishment politicos or the media -- will be ISIS. If the terror thugs score another hit on our allies or on the United States, The Donald could prevail. That’s what voters are telling us.
In recent weeks—and for the first time--Donald Trump’s poll numbers began to sag. Since early July, he had reliably led the field by several points but beginning in late October, Ben Carson edged past Trump to take first place in several surveys. Growing support from Evangelicals and from women boosted Carson, mainly at the expense of the frontrunner. Trump fatigue had emerged.
But, just as pundits were rehearsing their “I told you so’s,” along came the Paris attacks. The frightening and well-coordinated murders, indicating an evolving global threat from ISIS, put the world on edge. With President Obama not giving Americans the emotional support they needed from their leader, Trump stepped up. His fiery responses to the assault on innocent civilians – his hardline suggestions that we should track Muslims in our country and refuse to admit Syrian refugees, has been welcomed by many in our shaken country.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken in the days after ISIS struck in Paris showed why. Overall, voters in the U.S. ranked terrorism as their second-most important concern, behind the economy. Some 42 percent of Republicans, however, put terrorism at the top of their worries, compared to 29 percent that were most focused on the economy. Trump is the pick of 42 percent of the party to handle terrorism. Nearly 70 percent of Republicans did not approve of taking in Syrian refugees; 45 percent think Trump is the candidate best able to handle immigration issues.
The same poll found the country impatient with Obama’s tepid response to ISIS, with some 57 percent now disapproving of his handling of the terrorist group. Nearly three-quarters of the country now support increased air strikes against ISIS, and 60 percent are calling for an increased use of “boots on the ground.” That ramped-up militancy reflects a country where 40 percent expect an attack on our soil.
President Obama’s sluggish response to the Paris attacks, and fealty to a failing strategy, have made him odd man out and opened the door to Trump. The tycoon’s recent promises to bring back waterboarding and to “bomb the s—t” out of ISIS appeals to those disgusted with Obama’s reluctant campaign against the terrorists.
It’s not just Trump who provides a sharp-edged contrast to Obama. Foreign leaders like England’s David Cameron, who has renewed his push for Britain to join in airstrikes in Syria and promised to hike England’s military spending, do too. The French have been especially aggressive in stepping up their attacks against ISIS; Socialist President Hollande, who declared war against ISIS and who has put France on emergency status, makes Obama look like a milquetoast. Hollande is pushing for a “sense of urgency” from the White House; so are Americans.
Trump heads into the holiday season again atop the GOP polls. Notwithstanding blistering attacks on his credibility, Trump thrives. Why? He projects strength, and Americans like to see that in their leader. They know their economy is the strongest in the world, and their military the most capable. They want their president to reflect that certainty, and to navigate with that wind at his back. On primary day, it may come down to this: Republicans will choose the candidate who makes them feel safe, or the one who make them feel good about themselves. Right now, Trump does both.