If you try hard enough, you can find similarities in just about any two people. Take Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, for instance. Some are significant – such as, both were well-known celebrities before they ever ran for president – and some purely random: both were divorced and remarried, both were raised Presbyterian, and their first names sound almost identical.
The most important similarity between them, however, is one that escapes most observers: both convey reassurance to their supporters in a way that most politicians cannot.
Voters are passionate about their presidential picks, no doubt. Just consider the 2000 election, for instance. The country was split right down the middle between George W. Bush and Al Gore, and then waited for weeks to find out who was ultimately going to prevail, culminating in a U.S. Supreme Court decision. But of those 100 million-plus who voted in that election, how many really said: “I’m voting for ____ (Bush or Gore) because if he wins, we’re all going to be just fine”?
Granted, Reagan’s detractors, both in 1980 and 1984, certainly didn’t think we were “going to be fine” under four or eight years of Reagan, which is why they voted against him. But Reagan’s supporters – as compared to those of Bush, Gore, and so many before and after them – felt that quiet, comforting sense of reassurance.
Similarly, Donald Trump’s bashers – and there are tens of millions of them, to be sure – can’t decide whether he is just a buffoon who should not be taken seriously, or an evil racist who should be.
But Trump’s supporters, arguably more so than those of most if not all of the other GOP nominees, and of the scant few on the Democratic side, plan to vote for Trump because with no one else do they feel so reassured that “we’re all going to be just fine.”
Exceptions to the rule notwithstanding, anyone who understands politics knows that Bernie Sanders can’t win. Ron Reagan Jr., the president’s son and namesake, after speaking so eloquently at his father’s funeral was asked: “why don’t you consider running for president? You speak so well, and you’ve certainly got name recognition!” The younger Reagan’s swift and effective reply was: “I’m an atheist. America is not going to elect an atheist president of the United States.” Similarly, America is not going to elect a socialist. A real one, that is. Not one called “socialist” as a scare tactic by his opponents (Barack Obama), but one who proudly self-identifies as one (Sanders). Sure, Sanders calls himself a “Democratic Socialist,” but all people have to hear is the “s” word, and it wouldn’t matter if he called himself a “conservative Republican Christian, Second Amendment, pro-life socialist.” If the “s” word is in there at all, his candidacy is hopeless.
Sanders’ base is a minority of Americans on the far left, who think mainstream Democrats are too conservative. Add to that millennials new to the political process, attracted by Sanders’ warmth, passion, and advocacy for society’s “have-nots,” and Democrats – and there are plenty – who simply cannot stomach Hillary Clinton, and that’s why the Berniementum continues.
Next, there is Hillary herself. Unlike Bernie, she can win, and has as good a chance of doing so as anyone. But her supporters feel the least reassured of all. Some look to her as a role model – professionally, a highly accomplished woman – while others are simply intrigued by the novelty and historic impact of the first woman president. Others yet, more practical, think she has the best chance – and she does – of beating the Republican nominee, whoever he or she might be.
Speaking of which, the ones currently “taken seriously” (for lack of a better term) on the Republican side besides Trump are, alphabetically: Jeb Bush, Dr. Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio. I still think Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee have a puncher’s chance – and though I could be wrong, I was one of the very few who said from day one that Scott Walker never had a chance.
Bush is to Republican voters what Hillary is to their Democratic counterparts. The begrudgingly safe choice. The chicken entrée, because the seafood can be hit or miss.
Carson? Well, people are just enchanted by his genuineness. If Mitt Romney was the champion of inauthenticity, Ben Carson is Ttim Yenmor (that’s Mitt Romney spelled backwards). But are they reassured that he’ll keep us strong and safe? Heck, no! They just like him a whole lot.
Ted Cruz? In many ways, he is the most Trump-like candidate, except that he comes across as wearing his unyielding steadfastness dangerously, as a badge of honor. He might not give an inch, and America may be the last man standing, but might just have to endure a very bumpy and bloody ride along the way. Trump, by contrast, might get us there without firing a shot, just like Reagan did in the Cold War with Gorbachev. Why? Because Trump would do what Reagan did: work out a deal by playing a strong hand.
Then, there’s Marco Rubio. In many ways, he is Trump’s biggest threat for the nomination. He’s only a slightly-less “safe” choice than Bush, but he’s the spicy kind of chicken, unlike Bush, who is the boiled, unsalted kind. But do Rubio’s supporters really say “we’re going to be just fine” with their man at the helm?
Only Trump’s followers have the confidence in him to be truly reassured. They know that when he plays chess for America’s team, he understands that while his opponent only has one queen, the United States has ten. And when you start out with ten queens to your opponent’s one, you can even beat grandmaster Gary Kasparov.
Trump’s supporters sleep soundly at night knowing that if he wins, America will be great again, indeed. That he’ll beat ISIS, he’ll beat Putin, he’ll beat Iran, he’ll end illegal entry and illegal overstay in the United States, he’ll beat China in the trade wars, and he’ll bring unemployment as close to zero as we’ve ever seen.
Can Trump do all of those things, or even some of them? That remains to be seen. The point is, his supporters have more confidence in him that he can, than do his opponents’ backers in them.
Think back to the countless number of nail-biting Super Bowl games: Patriots-Seahawks (2014 season), Ravens-49ers (2012), Giants-Patriots (2011 and 2007), Broncos-Packers (1997), and so on. All those fans would have cut off their right arms for their team to win. But very few sat through those games without a moment of worry.
Contrast that with the 1985 Chicago Bears, who annihilated the New England Patriots in that year’s Super Bowl, 46-10. That the Bears would win was never in doubt; the only question was, by how much?