Donald Trump has captured the attention of the media and the public with blustery rhetoric that is often racist (Mexican immigrants are “rapists”) or absurd (John McCain is not a war hero because he was captured). His hair is also ridiculous.
In response, the media, the GOP establishment, and progressives have dismissed Trump as a “distraction” and a “side show.” The Huffington Post has decided to move their Trump coverage to their entertainment section.
To be clear, the people who predict that Trump will flame out are probably right. There are 16 Republicans running for president. By this time next year, 15 of them will have flamed out.
But is Trump really a less “serious” candidate than his competitors? Certainly not from a policy perspective. In fact, the sum total of his positions line up with or are more mainstream than his competition.
Yes, his rhetoric on immigration is highly offensive. But his immigration policy positions — which emphasize border security and reject a path to citizenship — are in line with everyone else running. He does reject climate science. But so does the entire Republican field, except for Lindsay Graham.
Like the other candidates he opposes marriage equality, but hasn’t advocated for a constitutional amendment banning the practice, as many others do. He opposes increasing the minimum wage, but hasn’t proposed getting rid of it like Scott Walker.
On other issues, Trump’s view are significantly more progressive (and politically more popular) than others in the field:
Trump opposes cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid
Trump has strongly criticized the rest of the Republican field for advocating deep cuts to programs relied upon by the elderly, the disabled, and the poor. In April at the New Hampshire Republican Leadership Summit Trump said that he was “disappointed with a lot of the Republican politicians.”
“Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can’t do that. And it’s not fair to the people that have been paying in for years and now all of the sudden they want to be cut,” Trump said.
Jeb Bush, a favorite of the Republican establishment, quietly proposed this week that Medicare — a program relied upon by millions of people — be “phased out.” Virtually the entire Republican field supports reducing entitlement programs through cuts, privatization, or both.
Trump supports universal health care
Trump would not be leading the Republican field if he didn’t support the repeal of Obamacare. But he has also talked for years about the need for universal health care.
Confronted last week about his position by conservative radio host John Fredericks, Trump stuck to his guns. “We have to help them out. And I would make deals with hospitals, and I’d make deals with people where they can get some care, John. I mean, you can’t have a guy that has no money, that’s sick, and he can’t go see a doctor, he can’t go see a hospital. You know, I just don’t think you can have that,” Trump said.
Trump told the host he didn’t care if his position cost him votes in the Republican primary, saying “you have to take care of poor people.”
Trump was critical of the Iraq War
“Look, the war is a disaster. The war should not have been entered into,” he told the Dallas Morning News in a July 2004 interview. “To lose all of those thousands and thousands of people, on our side and their side. I mean, you have Iraqi kids, not only our soldiers, walking around with no legs, no arms, no faces. All for no reason. It is a disgrace.”
Lindsay Graham said that, if elected president, he would start four wars. Jeb Bush is being advised by the architects of the Iraq War and refused to call the Iraq War a mistake earlier this year, before reversing course.
Trump is presenting himself as a “conservative Republican” and, in many respects, that is an accurate description of his politics. But he also isn’t hiding the fact that he is not a doctrinaire. He recently said that, out of the last four presidents, Bill Clinton was his favorite.
There are a lot of good reasons not to take Trump seriously — at the top of the list is his extended embrace of the birther movement and his insistence that Obama’s birth certificate was fake.
But it is also a dangerous game to be certain about the political fate of any individual. Political opponents initially “dismissed [Ronald] Reagan as a lightweight—an opinion based almost solely on the fact that he was an actor.” He went on to be Governor of California and one of the most popular Republican presidents in history.
The truth is no one actually knows who will win the Republican nomination. People will crunch the numbers and try to make predictions based on what has happened in the past, but the past is not the future. Before Barack Obama, we had never had a black president. Before George W. Bush, all of our Presidents since 1888 had won the popular vote.
No one really explains why Trump is less qualified to be president than Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, or Carly Fiorina. Nor is it clear why extremist rhetoric should be viewed as more disqualifying than extremist policies. Is it really better to have a president with more radical ideas, expressed politely?