Trump’s a clown, but the GOP’s a circus

Published 11:33 am Friday, August 28, 2015

by Jason Stanford

Donald Trump is a clown, but is he really so out of place in today’s Republican Party? We can write Trump off as an unserious candidate ill-suited to the long haul of an extended primary — much less a general election — but when he inevitably packs up his tent, the circus isn’t leaving town. If you ignore the celebrity and focus on what the candidates are saying, Trump is far from the craziest candidate running for the Republican nomination.

Part of Trump’s unsuitability for the polite society of politics is the lack of respect he shows for the players. He belittled John McCain’s war record and seemed to make sport of Megyn Kelly’s menstrual period. He called Mexican immigrants rapists and seemingly everyone else morons and losers. He’s a name caller bucking for the top job in a town where documented liars are called distinguished gentlemen. Trump’s just impolitic. Never have so many pearls been clutched for so little cause.

What’s more alarming is what his competitors for the Republican prize have planned. To a person, Trump’s opponents have mastered the high-minded tone and measured cadences that replicate speech by educated grownups. But if you look at the actual words that they say, then you realize we’re dealing with a king’s ransom of extreme policy positions.

Given what Republicans have planned for Day One, the next inaugural committee can probably skimp on the fireworks. Scott Walker wants to bomb Iran and rescind the nuclear deal, and Jeb Bush promises to immediately “take out” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. How is a sexist joke about lady parts worse than getting us immediately back into wars we’ve worked so hard to get out of?

Trump’s boorish comments about women make good copy, and if you want to write him off because of that, go and God bless. But explain to me how that’s a bigger deal than Marco Rubio and Walker opposing rape and incest exceptions to an abortion ban? Only about 10 percent of the country supports a no-exceptions abortion ban, and this would change long-standing Republican support for those exceptions, but Rubio and Walker don’t seem to have paid any price among Republicans for veering way out to the right on abortion.

With one exception, all the Republican presidential candidates want to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood to provide health care for low-income women. That exception? Donald Trump, who is against tax dollars paying for abortions — which doesn’t happen anyway — but isn’t necessarily against paying for health care services at Planned Parenthood.

“I’m sure they do some things properly and good and that are good for women, and I would look at that, and I would look at other aspects also. But we have to take care of women,” said Trump.

Trump is even getting out-crazied by Dr. Ben Carson, whose charismatic delivery and intelligent mien masks opinions that land five clicks past incendiary, such as when he said Obamacare was “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” compared marriage equality activists to pedophiles, praised Vladimir Putin for criticizing the United States, and compared homosexuality to murder.

Trump calling immigrants “rapists” is indefensible, but his position on immigration — building a massive border wall with a “big, beautiful door” to let in the immigrants we want — paints his position in cartoonish primary colors. Contrast that with promises to repeal Obama’s executive order on immigration (Walker and Ted Cruz), militarize the border (Cruz again), take Arizona’s anti-immigration law nationwide (Carly Fiorina) and create a National ID card for citizens (Rand Paul).

Is calling unauthorized immigrants rapists, while awful and inaccurate, really worse than deporting them by bureaucratic fiat while militarizing peacetime America to enforce anti-immigrant policies? Trump’s rude, but the rest of the field is radical.

Trump’s celebrity exaggerates his profile (His hair! His fame! His billions!) and amplifies his every moronic utterance. When he’s gone, it’ll be tempting to think that the grownups have taken control. If anything, Trump is immoderate in style but moderate in content — at least compared to the clown car he’s running against.

JASON STANFORD is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford.