The critique I hear most often of my big piece on Trump and the GOP is that I neglected the role of race.
Isn’t it obvious, critics ask, that Trump has enflamed xenophobic bigotry? That the secret of his success in the polls (39 percent in a CNN poll on Wednesday) is his racist appeal to bigots and haters?
It is certainly true that Trump supporters are more distrustful of the outside world than other voters, and more likely to agree that President Obama is a Muslim or a foreigner. But it’s also true that America has seen racist xenophobes before, but not since George Wallace in 1972 has one made any kind of dent in national politics. Thirty to 40 percent of self-identified Republicans is a lot of people backing Trump. Many of them may have unexamined prejudices and biases. But until now, they have not offered a constituency to outspoken prejudice, which is why the Patrick Buchanan candidacies went nowhere in 1992 and 1996. This remains the same country that elected Barack Obama, twice. It contains bigots, sure—what country doesn’t?—but not enough to power a front-running campaign to a major-party presidential nomination.
I’d suggest another explanation for Trump’s amazing political success. It’s just a guess, mind you, so I didn’t include it in the main article, but, for those interested, here goes.
In March 2007, Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, published a gutsy article explaining the mood of the Republican Party after the George W. Bush presidency.
The first CEO president, Bush has had his reputation as an executive trashed by Katrina and Iraq. Bush had seen his role primarily as setting goals, then remaining resolute and confident about them. But the resolution and confidence are self-defeating if the goals aren’t matched with the appropriate means. Bush has been ill-served by his willingness to stand by failed subordinates (thereby eroding any sense of accountability), by his relative lack of interest in details and by his inability to establish coherence within his own government.
Because of these competency failures,
Republican candidates for president will have to contrast their styles and skills with those of Bush. Republicans don’t need more sheer IQ in their next nominee, but more EI—not emotional intelligence, as the popular book had it, but executive intelligence.
It was on this basis, Lowry argued, that Rudy Giuliani was leading the 2008 Republican presidential field—an argument I found so compelling that a few months later I volunteered to serve on the former New York mayor’s campaign.