Donald Trump isn’t that extremist, unserious or bigoted.
At least not when you look at the supposedly more reasonable candidates he’s up against. Trump has merely brought the dog whistle down a few octaves, making it audible to most humans.
After Trump called for barring all Muslims from entry to the United States, the condemnations from his fellow Republican primary contenders and other conservative politicos were swift and unequivocal.
Jeb Bush called Trump “unhinged.” To New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Trump’s idea is “a ridiculous position and one that won’t even be productive.” Dick Cheney said the proposal “goes against everything we stand for and believe in.” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) declared that it was “not what this party stands for” and, “more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.” Ben Carson added, “We do not and would not advocate being selective on one’s religion.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) said Trump’s position was “offensive and outlandish.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) called Trump “downright dangerous,” and said, “Donald Trump today took xenophobia and religious bigotry to a new level.”
Did he really, though?
Consider that in the weeks leading up to Trump’s latest effusion, two of his competitors for the GOP presidential nomination, Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) each said the United States should accept only Christians from among the refugees fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq. (Asked how the United States would actually implement such a policy, Bush could respond only with variations on: “I mean, you can prove you’re a Christian.”) Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) said we should “pause” all immigration from the Middle East. Rubio and Carson said no to any refugees whatsoever, with Christie bravely excluding even orphaned toddlers.
If you didn’t think such statements were driven by, or at least crafted to appeal to, bigotry and xenophobia, you have not been paying attention.
Is there really such a difference between saying “Christians only” and “no Muslims”? At some point we’re splitting hairs.
Sure, Trump expanded this religious litmus test to all immigrants, rather than just those fleeing for their lives, but in so doing he merely took an existing, Republican-establishment-endorsed proposal and made it a little bigger and flashier. He gilded the gold-plated lily, as Trump is wont to do.
It’s not clear his rivals have a lot of moral high ground to stand on if their argument is essentially “vote for someone slightly less bigoted than that other really big bigot.”
Nor is immigration the only policy issue on which Trump takes flak for being superlatively radical and ridiculous even though he’s only marginally more radical and ridiculous than other Republican candidates.
Consider his tax plan.
Trump’s tax proposal would cost the federal government an estimated $12 trillion in revenue over the next decade, according to a analysis from the Tax Foundation. As a result, the plan has (rightly) been lambasted as irresponsible and absurd. Bush pooh-poohed Trump’s plan as lacking in “fiscal responsibility.”
But is the $7 trillion hole that Bush’s own plan would blow in the budget (per the Tax Policy Center) really so much more responsible? What about the $4 trillion revenue loss that Rubio’s plan would cause? Or Cruz’s plan, which has a shortfall in the same ballpark?
Okay, sure, $12 trillion is bigger than $7 trillion and $4 trillion. But under any of these plans, we’re still talking about a geyser of red ink. Yet somehow Trump is the one who gets singled out for his fiscal recklessness.
Likewise, on women’s health, gun control and climate change, there’s not all that much difference between Trump and his Republican rivals. Perhaps in tone or gentility, but not really in substance.
Americans have just been so distracted by the carnival-barker craziness of Trump that we’ve been ignoring the slightly less colorful craziness of the other candidates.
In fact, despite constant Republican-establishment bellyaching that their party and primary have been hijacked by an unserious candidate, Trump’s campaign has in a way been helpful to the likes of Rubio, Cruz, Christie and Bush. By comparison, their own far-right, unserious, unreasonable ideas start to look moderate, serious and reasonable, and their own xenophobic rhetoric sounds a little more mannerly. Not to mention that Trump’s bombast and self-obsession make just about any other politician look grounded, polished and temperamentally tame (no small feat if you’re Chris “sit down and shut up” Christie).
Assuming Trump doesn’t ultimately win the Republican nomination, he will have provided a very useful foil to his party’s eventual nominee. Perhaps the other candidates should start showing some gratitude.