Is Donald Trump really so much crazier or more extreme than the other Republican presidential candidates?
Certainly in the popular imagination — and among party elites — the answer seems to be yes: Trump has placed himself well outside the bounds of Republican orthodoxy. Hence the push for the establishment to coalesce around a viable, more “moderate” alternative. Someone like Marco Rubio, perhaps, or maybe even Ted “I’m not here to make friends” Cruz, the two candidates battling for second place behind The Donald, and whom GOP leadership is counting on to rescue the party from Trumpian extremism.
I’m not convinced, though, that Trump is so far out on the fringe, especially if you use these also-runners as your reference points. Consider the positions of the three top contenders on a few high-profile issues.
On immigration, Trump wants to build a wall and round up and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.
On taxes, Trump proposes cuts that would cost trillions of dollars; are not paid for; are highly regressive; and are even more regressive if you assume they’ll actually be offset by spending cuts, which would disparately hurt poor and middle-class Americans.
They each cost trillions; are not paid for; are highly regressive; and are even more regressive if you assume they’ll actually be offset by spending cuts.
On Obamacare, Trump pledges to repeal it completely. Ditto Cruz, ditto Rubio and ditto basically everyone else in the Republican Party.
What would they replace it with? That’s a little hand-wavey.
Both Cruz and Rubio say they want to let people buy insurance across state lines and expand tax preferences for spending on health care (through health savings accounts and/or tax credits for individual insurance). Also lots of vague buzzwords involving “markets” and “innovation.”
Trump plans to replace Obamacare with “something terrific,” which would include letting people buy insurance across state lines and expanding tax preferences for spending on health care (through health savings accounts). And he dumps out his own bucket of buzzwords.
Trump also frequently advocates not letting people “die in the streets ” and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, stances that are usually more associated with the left than the right. If anything, then, on health care, Trump looks more moderate than his two biggest Republican rivals.
When it comes to human rights, Trump, Rubio and Cruz seem to be jockeying for who can commit more war crimes.
Trump wants to bring back waterboarding, plus “a hell of a lot worse”; Cruz wants to “carpet bomb” parts of the Middle East until we learn whether “sand can glow in the dark”; and Rubio repeatedly declines to answer questions about using torture, not because he finds torture morally abhorrent but because he doesn’t want to give away his interrogation strategy to terrorists.
On Syrian refugees, Trump said he’d let in none at all (and later, no Muslim immigrants of any kind). Rubio also eventually agreed that we should accept none at all, while Cruz said Christians only. You say potato, I say po-tah-to.
Have you noticed a pattern yet?
On policy matters, there just ain’t much daylight between Trump and the supposed mainstream alternatives. They’re all pretty far to the right.
You could argue that the others have shifted their original positions rightward to pitch-match Trump’s belches of outrageousness. (Cruz only recently endorsed mass deportation, for example.) But regardless of where on the ideological spectrum the candidates started, the fact remains that today the three of them are largely indistinguishable from one another on most major policy stances.
What differentiates Trump from the others is not substance, but salesmanship.
That includes more entertaining oratory and online insults; better campaign swag; and more overt appeals to racism and xenophobia. (He makes dog whistles audible to humans.) Trump may be less civil than the others, but in the age of reality TV, incivility sells.
If the Republican establishment doesn’t want to line up behind Trump, perhaps it’s not because he’s thwarting their most cherished principles or committing some ideological heresy. Maybe he’s just too good at hogging the limelight.