Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Donald and the Decider the Gop Has Been Dumbing Itself Down for a While Now

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Donald and the Decider the Gop Has Been Dumbing Itself Down for a While Now

Article excerpt

Six months have passed since Donald Trump overtook Jeb Bush in polls of Republican voters. Most pundits dismissed the Trump phenomenon as a blip, predicting that voters would soon return to conventional candidates. Instead, his lead kept widening, and the triumvirate of trash-talk - Mr. Trump, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz - now commands the support of roughly 60 percent of the primary electorate.

How can this be happening? After all, these anti- establishment candidates, aside from being ignorant about policy, have a habit of making false claims, then refusing to acknowledge error. Why don't Republican voters seem to care?

One reason is that the party taught them not to care. Bluster and belligerence as substitutes for analysis, disdain for measured reasoning and dismissal of inconvenient facts reported by the "liberal media" didn't suddenly arrive on the Republican scene last summer. They have long been key elements of the party brand.

Let's talk first about the legacy of He Who Must Not Be Named.

In 2000 Republicans largely succeeded in making the election about likability, not policy. Vote for George W. Bush because he was someone you'd enjoy having a beer with, unlike that boring guy Al Gore with all his facts and figures.

When Mr. Gore tried to talk about policy differences, Mr. Bush responded not on the substance but by mocking his opponent's "fuzzy math" - a phrase gleefully picked up by his supporters. The press corps played right along with this deliberate dumbing-down: Mr. Gore was deemed to have lost debates, not because he was wrong, but because he was, reporters declared, snooty and superior, unlike the affably dishonest W.

Then came 9/11, and the affable guy was repackaged as a war leader. But the repackaging did not include substantive arguments about foreign policy. Mr. Bush and his handlers sold swagger. You could trust him to keep us safe because he talked tough and proudly declared that he was the "decider," that he made decisions based on his "gut. …

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