Greg Sargent at The Washington Post has lately been driving home the point that Donald Trump just isn’t vulnerable to typical attacks from the establishment – at least during the Republican primary. (The general election might be different.) Catch Mr. Trump making an utterly false assertion, and his supporters will consider any pushback to be the liberal media conspiring against him. And it’s driving establishment Republicans wild.
But really, why should they be shocked? Think about what the establishment has to say about other issues. Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, has said that global warming is a fraud, perpetrated by a vast conspiracy at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is itself presumably part of an even larger global conspiracy within the scientific community. And when the Obama administration reported last year that large numbers of people were signing up for the Affordable Care Act, leading Republican senators accused the White House of cooking the books – and I’m unaware of any apology or even acknowledgment that they were wrong. In 2012, the conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh even claimed that one of the Batman films was a conspiracy against Mitt Romney. And on and on.
So how are base voters supposed to know that Mr. Trump’s claims that the media suppressed films of Muslims cheering on Sept. 11 mark him as “crazy,” while all the other conspiracy theories on the right are O.K.?
I guess someone could put together a cheat sheet listing acceptable and unacceptable tin-hat views, but Mr. Trump would just call that part of the conspiracy, and a lot of people would believe him.
The conventional wisdom on the politics of terror seems to be faring just as badly as the conventional wisdom on the politics of everything.
Support for Mr. Trump went up, not down, in public polls after the recent terror attacks in Paris – clearly, Republican voters have not decided to rally around the “serious” candidates. And as Mr. Sargent noted in The Post, polls suggest that the public trusts Hillary Clinton as much, if not more, than Republicans to fight terror.
May I suggest that these developments are related? After all, where did the notion that Republicans are effective on terror come from? Mainly from a rally-around-the-flag effect after Sept. 11. But if you think about it, President George W. Bush became America’s champion against terror because, um, the nation suffered a big terrorist attack on his watch. The whole thing never made much sense.
What Mr. Bush did do was talk tough, boasting that he would get Osama bin Laden dead or alive. But he didn’t. And guess who did?
So people who trust Republicans on terror – which presumably includes the G.O.P. base – are going to be the kind of people who value big talk and bluster over actual evidence of effectiveness. Why on earth would you expect such people to turn against Mr. Trump after an attack?