Wednesday, March 20, 2019

What Trump in 2016 teaches us about 2020 -- March 21, 2019 column


We’re coming up on a milestone, of sorts.

On March 23 four years ago, the first hopeful Republican contender entered the 2016 presidential race.

“The answer will not come from Washington,” he said. It will come “when the American people stand together, and say, `We will get back to the principles that made this country great.’”

Sound familiar? Not exactly. It was Ted Cruz, in a speech to cheering students at Liberty University.

That was in the B.D. era – Before Donald.

As more Democrats line up to run for president, it’s worth remembering what happened when 17 Republicans competed for the presidential nomination.

We know who won. How many of the others can you still name?

Time’s up. They were: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum and Scott Walker.

When Donald Trump jumped in nearly three months after Cruz, he vowed at Trump Tower to “make our country great again” and “have Mexico pay for the wall.”

He also gave a sour taste of things to come when he gratuitously belittled his opponents at their campaign launches.

“They didn’t know the air conditioner didn’t work. They sweated like dogs. They didn’t know the room was too big, because they didn’t have anybody there. How are they going to beat ISIS?” Trump said.

Trump was making a fallacy of false cause argument -- trying to establish cause and effect between unrelated things. Someone’s not knowing the air conditioning was broken at a venue shows absolutely nothing about how he’d do at fighting ISIS. It’s absurd, but catchy.  

Trump laid waste to once-viable candidates one disparaging nickname at a time: “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz, “Liddle Marco” Rubio and “Low Energy” Jeb Bush.

In Cruz’s case, Trump also claimed Cruz’s father was associated with Lee Harvey Oswald before the JFK assassination. Cruz called the allegation nuts and kooky.

“You know, you have to brand people a certain way when they’re your opponents,” Trump said before the Florida primary in March 2016, explaining how to call out Cruz: It’s “Lyin’ Ted,” he said, “L-Y-I-N-apostrophe.”

“We can’t say it the right way,” he said. “We’ve got to go, Lyin’! Lyin’! Ted!”

Moving on to Rubio, he spelled out “L-I-D-D-L-E. Liddle, Liddle, Liddle Marco.”

Trump has an uncanny knack for finding a rival’s soft spot and choosing a nickname that sticks.

He famously labeled Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton “crooked Hillary,” called her “such a nasty woman” in a debate, and at rallies beamed as his supporters chanted, “Lock Her Up.”

Trump’s ad hominem attacks were stupid, wrong and creepily effective.

Now, the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls are his target.

He reportedly thinks Elizabeth Warren will be the Democrats’ pick and early on dubbed her Pocahontas for her claim of Native American heritage. She has struggled ever since, finally apologizing for saying she was Native American.

Lately, Trump watched Beto O’Rourke’s video announcing his candidacy March 14 and picked up on his expansive hand gestures.

“I think he’s got a lot of hand movement. I’ve never seen so much hand movement. I said, `Is he crazy, or is that just the way he acts?’” Trump told reporters.

It’s only March 2019. O’Rourke has time to tone down the splashy gestures. Not all the Democratic candidates are even in the pool.

Joe Biden is said to enter the race soon. Virginians Terry McAuliffe and Mark Warner are among those weighing a bid.

Meanwhile, Trump is warming up his attack machine. He called Biden Monday “another low I.Q. individual.”

As we saw in 2016, he shut down his rivals before they could introduce and fully define themselves through their actions, ideas and policies.

Trump will try again to set the tone of the presidential campaign with his personal-attack brand of politics, but he doesn’t set the rules.

Voters should pay attention to policies and hold all candidates accountable for glib fallacies and falsehoods.

We can tune out slurs and nicknames for what they are: petty, malicious noise.

And, most important, we can vote.    

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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