February 19, 2016
The pope is the most popular person in the world. Nikki Haley is the most popular person in South Carolina. Apple is likely the most popular company in the world. George W. Bush is very popular among South Carolina Republicans.
In less than a week, Donald J. Trump has attacked or jousted with them all. First he accused W of lying about Iraqi WMDs and blamed him for the 9/11 attacks. When Haley endorsed Marco Rubio, that set her up for some criticism, though milder than his words about the others.
Yesterday, the pope weighed in on immigration, walls and Christianity. Trump did not start this fight, but wasn’t afraid to finish it. Catholics are a small percentage of Palmetto State voters, but many non-Catholics respect the pontiff.
The Donald is counting on Catholic Reagan Democrats in several northern states, so make no mistake, this was a risk. His point about the Vatican being surrounded by a wall was an excellent one. Other candidates have refrained from being critical this time.
It’s another only in 2016, only with Trump moment. No other candidate gets called out like this, no other candidate pushes back. In the meanwhile, he managed to elevate himself to a platform with the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Not a bad day’s work.
Today, Apple is next on the list. CEO Tim Cook’s refusal to work on providing government access to the locked phone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists is not acceptable to Trump. He believes they need to do this forthwith, and is urging a boycott of the company until they comply.
Many voters love their iPhones and Macs, but it’s an opportunity for Trump to contrast himself with current GOP competitors and potential future general election foes. In candidate forums yesterday, the others temporized or flatly refused to take a position.
This isn’t an easy issue. A dead terrorist doesn’t have any privacy rights. The phone belongs to the San Bernardino County government. It’s quite possible there are contacts, emails, or other things pointing to other terrorists, ISIS sympathizers, or accomplices.
Apple maintains there isn’t a way for them to create access to this phone without developing a software backdoor that could be used for evil in the future. You’d think there was a way to split the difference and have them break into the one phone without opening Pandora’s Box, but perhaps not.
None of this has anything to do with Trump’s ongoing fight with Ted Cruz, something that will continue as long as both remain in the race. While more personal than we sometimes see, it’s not unusual for top tier candidates to have conflict.
The difference is Trump’s willingness to fire shots himself. Traditionally, surrogates and ads do most of the attacking, while the candidate attempts to appear above the fray. This results in Cruz spending more time directly responding than he might prefer.
Each week, I wonder what Trump will do for headlines the following week. There’s always something. He rarely lets a good opportunity pass without trying to capitalize somehow. It’s exhausting, sometimes exasperating, but also very impressive. As we are constantly reminded, it’s unprecedented.
This week’s list of opponents may help Trump retain his lead in South Carolina. They may have narrowed his lead. If he doesn’t win, people will blame his debate performance, the same way his Iowa debate absence was blamed for that loss.
We just don’t know. Absent an alternative universe, it’s all conjecture. We do know Trump voters like him because he doesn’t back down and doesn’t avoid fights just because the opponent is popular or influential.
We know his supporters think this is more important than specific ideology or whether he was pro-choice in the late Bill Clinton years. Whether or not he was for the Iraq War in 2002 before he was against it in 2003-04 is less important than his willingness to challenge the Bush family.
In a few months, we’ll know if you can rumble your way to the nomination this way. If so, in November we’ll know if you can win the presidency. In another generation, we’ll know if Trump was a one off, or if he’s redefined the process going forward.
For years, NBA players ignored the three point line. Now we have Steph Curry. Several years after the rule change, Larry Bird decided to make 3 pointers part of his game. Three decades later we have Steph and the Warriors. NOTE: I stole this example from a recent article, couldn’t remember where to link back.
Is he Larry Bird or a unicorn? Are we ready for another several months, followed by four to eight years of this? Who knows. The only thing I’m willing to predict is Trump will control the news flow next week too.