A candidate appears on the stage of a Republican primary debate and praises single-payer health care in Canada and the United Kingdom. He upbraids the corruption of American campaign finance. He denounces the Iraq war. He scoffs at banks and bankers—and promises to renegotiate the U.S. national debt. He ranks (or anyway, ranked) first in all the polls for the Republican nomination. It sounds more like a scene from an Aaron Sorkin series than real-world politics. Yet it happened last night on Fox News.
More incredible still: The Fox interviewers hammered this candidate unrelentingly hard—and it is the interviewers, rather than the bold-minded candidate, who have been widely hailed as models of independence and integrity. To most actual Aaron Sorkin fans, meanwhile, the stereotype-smashing candidate himself remains something between a joke and a pariah.
Nor are the Sorkin fans wrong, necessarily. The candidate in question is Donald Trump, after all. But it’s worth thinking about why the man who in many ways qualifies as the most liberal Republican in the race should get so very little acclaim from those who have hailed the party’s great moderate hopes from Jon Huntsman to John Kasich.
Rand Paul did more with less. In 2014, he earned a glowing Time magazine cover by questioning police power, drug laws, and American interventions abroad. You can see why those positions would be congenial to Time. But why isn’t Trump at least “interesting”? His policy preferences are much more unpredictable than Paul’s. Paul is constrained by a coherent ideology, by the preferences of his donors and supporters, and by some internal commitment to consistency and sincerity.