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The Right Resistance: It’s the change, stupid – no wonder ‘outsiders’ do so well these days

At the start of 2024 Republican Party presidential primary debate week number two, everyone knows, including the candidates themselves, that something must be done to blow up this cycle’s horserace status quo before the contest is all-but declared over in voters’ minds.

The matter of how to go about such a shakeup remains elusive to practically everyone, with former President Donald Trump having decided to forego another “official” forum in favor of doing something more general election-oriented and self-promotional. Last month, Trump powwowed with Tucker Carlson on the X platform rather than rub elbows with his intra-party competitors. This week, Trump announced he’ll visit with striking United Auto Workers (UAW) and tradesmen in lieu of appearing alongside candidates polling far, far behind him in public favor.

No one can forecast how Trump’s alternative programming will affect the remaining Republicans in Simi Valley, California (at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library) this week, but they’re certain to be asked about the snub, once again, and will be pitted against the absent race frontrunner in any number of ways.

Why haven’t the challengers done better against Trump thus far? Will we discover the answer in the shadow of Reagan’s Air Force One? In an article titled “Governors eclipsed by Trump in GOP race, hobbled by voters’ anti-establishment fervor”, Seth McLaughlin reported recently at The Washington Times:

“[T]he half dozen or so current or former governors trying to gain traction in the GOP presidential race are finding out that kind of executive experience just isn’t a big attraction anymore. ‘Many — and in some states a majority — Republican primary voters since 2016 wanted an outsider,’ said George Allen, a former congressman, senator and governor in Virginia. ‘The polling about the will of Republican primary voters indicated that: Experience as a governor, senator or almost anywhere in any government service was a negative and characterized as a part of the problem.’…

“Mike McKenna, a GOP strategist who served as a senior legislative aide in the Trump White House, said [outsiders like Vivek Ramaswamy make] the kinds of promises a governor could never make.

“’He learned from Trump that 80% of this is entertainment — not policy and not execution,’ said Mr. McKenna, who is also a columnist for The Washington Times. ‘Governors, guys like Ron DeSantis, they know they can’t do half the stuff Ramaswamy is talking about, so they are like, ‘I am not going to that.’”

I’m not sure I agree with McKenna’s breakdown of Donald Trump’s – and Vivek Ramaswamy’s – appeal. Though it can be said much of Trump’s spiel is entertainment value, it’s also the man’s willingness (eagerness?) to touch hot rails on nasty, contentious political issues that helped get him noticed – and admired – in the first place. When Trump used illegal immigration as one of the pillars of his 2016 campaign, he already contrasted greatly with the governing class in conservatives’ minds.

Trump brought up real “kitchen table” matters, the kinds of things “ordinary” people actually talk about, like foreign competition for jobs or illegal immigration that’s burdening local government budgets and brought unwanted changes to school curriculum. And crime – oh, the crime! Trump’s wasn’t a pretend concept laboratory in a white marble building – he was laying out the tangible substance.

Governors do real “stuff” too, but their emphasis on practicality and political feasibility prevented many of them from pushing the envelope to make headway against the onslaught of the left. And the lack of vision hurt them. Ron DeSantis has enjoyed a friendly legislature that backed him on pretty much whatever he wanted to do, so it’s helped him get big ideas and initiatives accomplished.

The others? Not so much. No one wants excuses – they demand results, not yet another statement of, “I did a lot in a divided state.” Rerun the tape, why don’t you?

But DeSantis’s success in Florida hasn’t helped him nationally or in the early states. Why? It’s a legitimate question: do grassroots conservatives and (some) Republican voters automatically distrust anyone who runs from within the political system (this includes governors and state and local politicians, too) as George Allen speculated above?

Here’s thinking this would’ve been a ridiculous question up until June, 2015, when lifelong real estate developer and reality TV star Donald Trump kept his word and entered the 2016 Republican presidential primary field. As has been well documented in this space and others, there typically was a true “outsider” or two running for president prior to Trump, the most noteworthy (in my mind, at least) being “Pizza Man” Herman Cain in 2012.

It should be noted that Cain himself wasn’t a true outsider in the post-Trump sense of the word. From Cain’s Wikipedia page: “Cain was chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Omaha Branch from 1989 to 1991. He was deputy chairman, from 1992 to 1994, and then chairman until 1996, of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. In 1995, he was appointed to the Kemp Commission and, in 1996, he served as a senior economic adviser to Bob Dole's presidential campaign.”

Therefore, the creator of Herman’s famous 9-9-9 tax plan had a leg into Republican politics as well as first-hand knowledge of federal finance regulatory bodies. Cain didn’t run on his government connections, but he didn’t exactly run away from them either, as I recall.

True, conservative author and all things firebrand, Alan Keyes, mounted an outsider campaign in 2008, though Keyes himself had been a U.N. Representative appointed by Ronald Reagan. No one considered Keyes a tried-and-true member of the DC establishment, yet he wasn’t from as far outside the swamp as Trump (and now Ramaswamy) was.

Libertarian conservative Ron Paul was also generally considered an “outsider” because the Texan was ardently anti-neoconservative, anti-Bush-ian foreign policy, and also made a name for himself as “Dr. No” in Congress due to his penchant for opposing huge chunks of whatever was introduced in the House of Representatives by either side. A strict constitutionalist, Paul had even left the GOP at one point and was the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee in 1988, appearing on the ballot in 46 states.

But it wasn’t until Trump came on the scene that someone with absolutely zero time in any political capacity tried his hand at running for president. Trump did so with the realization that his campaign would be dogged by not only the DC swamp establishment trying to paint him as a publicity seeking phony opportunist who was only dipping his toe into the political pond to enhance his own celebrity and brand, but also his enemies outside of the system who just thought he was a shyster, a cad and a creator of bad TV shows.

That’s a lot to overcome.

It’s not that Trump had completely disdained politics and didn’t know anything about anything back then – he’d certainly been hounded by members of the establishment media on political topics and whether he’d made any plans to run for president as a third-party candidate. And Trump’s knowledge of business-type issues such as taxes, trade, immigration and regulation would’ve made him arguably more qualified in those topics than any candidate who’d only worked in politics. (Note: Joe Biden is a perfect example of a liberal fool with no real-world experience.)

It's exactly these qualities that drew many, many, people to Trump’s side and cemented their loyalty as the “only one” who could come in and wreck/reform a badly broken representative democratic system. We’re still hearing it today, as even someone as successful as Gov. Ron DeSantis was in battling the social media barons, teachers’ unions and “woke” LGBTQIA+++ (whatever), his efforts haven’t earned him a reputation as a true outsider.

That’s not really fair to him, but it did provide an opening for Trump to claim that DeSantis is one with the establishment, since members of the DC swamp class – or at least some of them – had worked with DeSantis on some issues when he was in Congress and were open to saying nice things about him as a possible alternative to Trump. Don’t believe it? Harken back to when Jeb Bush had to stop himself short of “endorsing” Gov. Ron in early March of this year.

Talk about the kiss of death. The stamp of approval of Jeb Bush. It’s almost as bad as being endorsed by Mitt Romney… or Paul Ryan.

Vivek Ramaswamy is arguably an even bigger outsider than Trump was, since the latter was a decades-old public face and brand name, whereas the former came out of nowhere with nothing but a huge personal fortune, an enormous intellect and a virtually unmatched gift for gab that could exceed Trump’s.

Taken together, Trump and Ramaswamy put “outsiders” on the map. The “outsider” phenomenon even showed signs of succeeding in the Democrat party in 2020, as come-from-nowhere stranger Andrew Yang generated buzz among liberals and pragmatists. But as Democrats almost always do, they chose the ultimate bag of bones swamp reptile for their nominee, senile Joe Biden, simply for his perceived electability.

Will Wednesday night’s non-Trump debate aid the governors in making a comeback? If the recent past is a guide, nationally televised “debates” don’t move the polling needle much – unless it’s in the opposite direction. Candidates who have one good debate might see slight improvement – think Kamala Harris after the first 2020 Dem debate in 2019 – but tend to fall back to the pack in subsequent forums because they’re unable to sustain the momentum.

American voters are fickle. We know it. But they also demand substance from their leaders. At least conservatives do. Bring it on.

It could be said that “outsiders” have taken over Republican presidential politics and could remain high in voters’ estimations until the more conventional politicians (governors, senators) match their willingness to propose big and groundbreaking change. Primary debates offer limited opportunities to break free from the pack of also-rans. Will this week be different? We’ll see.

  • Joe Biden economy

  • inflation

  • Biden cognitive decline

  • gas prices,

  • Nancy Pelosi

  • Biden senile

  • January 6 Committee

  • Liz Cheney

  • Build Back Better

  • Joe Manchin

  • RINOs

  • Marjorie Taylor Green

  • Kevin McCarthy

  • Mitch McConnell

  • 2022 elections

  • Donald Trump

  • 2024 presidential election

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