Donald Trump - America’s loveable bull in a china shop - was an eagerly anticipated speaker at the 2015 Values Voter Summit, a conference that brings hundreds of evangelical activists to the nation’s capital. Think of the summit as the Christian answer to Burning Man, without the gratuitous sex, drug use and an important reversal in which the goal is to avoid burning.
Many were confused by the Trump invitation, since The Donald is not exactly known for showcasing a religious emphasis in his life. But if a Pharisee like John McCain merits repeat invitations to speak, surely a recent convert qualifies.
In a nice touch, for a candidate notorious for lack of preparation, Trump brought the Bible his mother gave him as a child. As Trump waved the keepsake overhead - hoping it would serve as tangible proof of his Christianity - the gesture reminded me of a gopher-faced Mitch McConnell brandishing a musket at the Conservative Political Action Conference, because I had a feeling neither has been used this century.
What has been used before are a number of applause lines Trump employs and the crowd enjoys. The Donald doesn’t have a stump speech that he recycles regularly, like the majority of politicians. It’s more a stream-of-consciousness assessment of the political landscape that, because of Trump’s surprising likability, never degenerates into a rant.
There are so many asides and digressions during a Trump speech that even a transcript proves to be of limited utility.
Mentioning Squeaker Boehner’s resignation was a sure-fire applause generator all day. Trump’s dismissal of the leader of the Surrender Caucus was classic, “And we had some big news today with Boehner...Speaker Boehner - you know, some people like him on a personal basis. Do people like him on a personal basis? Anybody?”
Trump also has a gift for pointing out smaller facts that tell a larger truth. The public overwhelmingly opposes Iran nuclear appeasement and, as a consequence, is convinced the negotiators were, to use a Trump word, clowns. Trump reinforces this by pointing out the American citizens Iran is holding as prisoners indicate a complete lack of respect for Obama as negotiator: “...by the way, it used to be three [prisoners] at the beginning of the negotiations, now it’s four.”
The low point of his appearance came when Trump dismissed Marco Rubio as “this clown,” evidently not aware of how much enthusiasm the senator generated previously. The putdown generated instant boos and was the featured event in most of the hostile media coverage. The booing, though, was just a blip, Rubio finished fourth in the straw poll to Trump’s fifth. And even though his language was tactless, Trump was right and the contrast with Rubio is instructive.
Rubio is just the latest young and gullible conservative to come to Washington and convert. As Trump says, “...what happens? They become different people.” Instead of being a TEA Party conservative as he was billed, Rubio became another enabler in the RINO project to commit political suicide by granting amnesty to 12 million illegals.
His participation in the Gang of Ocho made him popular on Wall Street and torpedoed him on Main Street.
Even without that disaster, Rubio’s philosophy has nothing to offer conservatives regardless of how young and personable he is. Rubio’s speech was long on hard-working Cuban parents and short on concrete proposals to shrink the size of the federal government.
Evidently the crowd missed it, but Rubio wants to repeal and REPLACE Obamacare, when the solution is to end federal meddling in the healthcare market. Rubio has the usual bromides about cutting spending, but trimming spending without ending programs is a fool’s errand. Rubio’s government will be like the hefty female personal trainers who try to assure us one can be fat but fit. When Rubio’s term ends, so does Uncle Sam’s diet.
Trump’s lack of time-serving, back-patting Washington experience is supposed to be a negative, but right now you can’t throw a rock in Washington without hitting an officeholder who is is full of “experience” and where has it gotten us?
Trump is also criticized for being caustic and dismissive of the other candidates in the race, but Rubio’s slavish support of establishment Republicans is the accommodation fueling Trump’s rise. In an angry departure interview, Boehner inadvertently explained just why he and “leaders” like McConnell have to go. The put-upon Squeaker whined that he’d done his best to defend the institution when the truth is his job is to defend the Constitution and he failed miserably.
Trump has not been captured by the “institution” and is unlikely to suffer that fate in the future.
Besides, power has a likability all its own - just ask Obama.
Michael Shannon is a commentator and public relations consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org