I was wrong about Donald Trump.
Not about his sophomoric approach to his rivals, his boorish rhetoric or his policy-free campaign.
But like many political observers, I believed his candidacy would be a flash in the pan.
He’d enjoy a novelty bump in the polls shortly after announcing his run, but it would quickly fade as more experienced, serious and accomplished candidates eclipsed him.
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I could not have anticipated that his antics, insults and platform completely bereft of policy solutions would somehow resonate with a significant, albeit limited, segment of the American public.
Yet here we are, with 15 states having completed their primaries and caucuses, the majority of which were won by Trump.
Still, there is opportunity even in this most agonizing political exercise.
To his supporters, Trump is leading a revolution within the Republican Party.
During stump speeches, Trump declares that his campaign is successfully expanding the party.
And polls suggest he’s right — sort of.
Indeed, “the establishment” — a phrase uttered so promiscuously it is rendered almost meaningless in this election cycle — does not support the man who has initiated a hostile takeover of its party.
Instead, Trump has built a coalition of disaffected, mostly white, working-class Americans (“the poorly educated,” as Trump affectionately called some of them after the Nevada caucuses). Some have called them the present-day version of the “Reagan Democrats” of 35 years ago.
In national polls, Trump’s supporters frequently report they were abandoned by both the Republican and Democratic parties, and in many ways they have been.
The weak economy has hurt them, as have progressive environmental policies.
Unlike traditional Republicans, they are more likely to support a strong welfare state.
They are wary of free-trade agreements and feel threatened by immigration, both legal and illegal.
They don’t seem to fit neatly into either political party.
As a result, they feel voiceless.
And Trump’s vehement but vague rhetoric on their issues of greatest concern seems to satisfy them.
They like his “straight talk” and his outsider status, although neither portends an ability to lead.
Mostly, they are angry — a sentiment the real estate mogul is all too willing to exploit.
But anger is not an organizing principle.
And that is why the Trump revolution will fail.
Public outrage might be the stuff uprisings are made of, but when the dust settles someone has to govern with principles and policy solutions.
And so Trump and his supporters should ready themselves for the conservative counterrevolution.
As Federalist writer David Harsayni explains, “Trumpism, as destructive as it is, is also unsustainable.”
Legitimate it may be, but “Trump isn’t going to erect an infrastructure for a lasting party. He will not be recruiting or cultivating lower-tier Trumpian candidates. He won’t be spending millions furthering a set of ideals, because he doesn’t have any to offer. … There is no Trump after Trump.”
But if there is to be a Republican Party after Trump, one with a renewed sense of its own fundamental values — free markets, limited government and equality of opportunity — it will have to fight back.
Conservative leaders in opposition to Trump must do more than stand against him.
They must show how conservative principles actually address the concerns of the disaffected working class and then fight for those principles.
That will require more than inundating the airwaves with anti-Trump commercials, or speeches by elder statesmen on the need to coalesce around an alternative candidate.
The Republican Party is too often viewed as the “party of no.”
While it is justified in standing against Trump, it must do more than that. It must stand for the finest traditions of conservatism rooted in the founding documents of this country.
Trump’s candidacy might be giving the GOP a most unexpected opportunity to do so.
I’ve been wrong before. This time, I hope I’m not.