Wednesday, May 4, 2016

How Donald Trump Staged a GOP Takeover

At WSJ, "How Trump Won — and How the GOP Let Him":
With his victory in Indiana, Donald Trump has seized a controlling stake in the Republican Party.

Back when few people took Donald Trump seriously as a potential presidential candidate, the New York businessman asked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his wife, Callista, to meet in Iowa. Over breakfast at the Des Moines Marriott Hotel in January 2015, Mr. Trump spent 45 minutes grilling Mr. Gingrich on his experience running for president.

“It was clear to me at the end of the talk that he was seriously considering it,” Mr. Gingrich said.

Yet two months later, in March 2015, three-quarters of Republican primary voters in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll said they couldn’t imagine supporting Mr. Trump for president. He was so marginal that during a candidate cattle call by the National Rifle Association the following month more people stayed to listen to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal than to Mr. Trump.

Most Republican leaders remained oblivious while Mr. Trump plotted the political equivalent of a corporate takeover. With his resounding victory Tuesday in Indiana, he has seized a controlling stake in the Republican Party with the backing of shareholders unhappy with previous management.

Mr. Trump, having driven out the last of his rivals, is now the party’s presumptive nominee—a jaw-dropping outcome that says as much about the GOP, caught in turmoil and transition, as it does about Mr. Trump.

Ever since their bitter 2012 presidential loss, Republican leaders and the party’s grass roots have been at odds, with rank-and-file voters angry at the failure of elites to deliver, and at odds over the issue of immigration. Mr. Trump found opportunity in the rupture.

Party leaders and the other GOP candidates almost unanimously underestimated Mr. Trump’s staying power. His rivals believed his provocative campaign would fail, a presumption that allowed him to run for months in a splintered field of competitors. Most were reluctant to attack, convinced they would scoop up his supporters when Mr. Trump’s campaign finally imploded.

Republicans proved vulnerable to his unconventional campaign style. As a skilled entertainment professional, he made himself ubiquitous. His audience seemed ready to forgive any outrageous comment or slip-up.

Mr. Trump dominated the campaign conversation with a communications-heavy strategy that relied on mass rallies, TV interviews and debates. That meant no polling, no analytics, little paid media, no consultants.

“This election isn’t about the Republican Party, it’s about me,” Mr. Trump said in an interview this week. “I’m very proud I proved an outsider can win by massive victories from the people, not from party elites or state delegates.”

Having dealt the GOP establishment its biggest defeat in decades, Mr. Trump said his mission wasn’t to change the party. He also doesn’t appear interested in whether the GOP can muster the kind of institutional support its presidential nominee normally receives...
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