But Donald Trump has come under repeated attack. Here’s an ad from the Club for Growth’s million-dollar anti-Trump campaign back in September. Here’s Rand Paul in August. Here’s a pair of mocking ads from Jeb Bush’s campaign in September and October. Here’s a savage ad from the Kasich campaign in November. Everybody’s been talking about the National Review special issue in January denouncing Trump. The Miss America contestant from Alabama made many of the same points when she was interviewed in the pageant in the fall of 2015.
The attacks have been fired. They failed.
It’s certainly possible to imagine more ingenious lines of attack. In a January 24 column, Ross Douthat of The New York Times volunteered a brutal possible ad.
To attack him effectively, you have to go after the things that people like about him. You have to flip his brand.
So don’t tell people that he doesn’t know the difference between Kurds and the Quds Force. (They don’t either!) Tell people that he isn’t the incredible self-made genius that he plays on TV. Tell them about all the money he inherited from his daddy. Tell them about the bailouts that saved him from ruin. Tell them about all his cratered companies. Then find people who suffered from those fiascos—workers laid off following his bankruptcies, homeowners who bought through Trump Mortgage, people who ponied up for sham degrees from Trump University.
Or just take a camera crew around Atlantic City, and slap Trump’s name on what you find.
Likewise, don’t get mired in philosophical arguments about big government and crony capitalism. Find the people hurt by Trump’s attempts to exploit eminent domain: The widow whose boarding house he wanted to demolish to make room for a limo parking lot, the small businessmen whose livelihoods he wanted to redevelop out of existence.
(One of the Donald’s foredoomed rivals, Ted Cruz, actually just cut an ad along these lines. But of course it’s too late for that to work.)
Finally: Calling Trump out for having “New York values” when you mean “thrice-married, coarse, and libertine” is telling people what they already know. If you want to persuade his voters that his “New York values” are a problem for them, put his alleged dealings with the Mafia on the table.
Whoever emerges as the last man standing among the governors and senators may yet try just this approach.
But maybe Republicans might also consider Aesop’s advice.
For a very long time, the voting base of the Republican Party has been signaling desperate economic and cultural distress.
A poll published on Tuesday in The Washington Post sounds the klaxon again:
The Republican electorate is in a sour mood as its members prepare to begin the process of picking a presidential nominee. Almost 9 in 10 say the country is seriously off on the wrong track, and more than 8 in 10 are dissatisfied with the way the federal government works, including nearly 4 in 10 who say they’re angry about it.
Two-thirds worry about maintaining their current living standard, more than 6 in 10 say people with similar values are losing influence in American life, and about half say the nation’s best days are behind it. Half also say immigrants mainly weaken American society, compared with 55 percent of the overall population who say immigrants strengthen America.
Donald Trump’s response to this dilemma is protectionism, immigration restriction, and a big helping of his own often-claimed superhuman toughness and competence. It’s maybe not a very adequate answer, but it’s an answer. What’s Marco Rubio’s answer? What’s Jeb Bush’s? What’s Chris Christie’s?