Saturday 1 October 2016

Trump's street-brawling style delivers a knock-out punch to political debate in US

Matt K Lewis

Published 28/07/2015 | 02:30

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is racing ahead of other US presidential candidates by breaking all the rules
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is racing ahead of other US presidential candidates by breaking all the rules

After watching 'The Karate Kid' too often as a child, I decided to take taekwondo classes when I was about 12. During the sparring sessions, I quickly learnt that the most dangerous person to fight was not the 6ft 3in black belt, but the guy who walked in straight off the street.

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A fighter with a black belt might have superior technique, but he also played by a set of predictable rules. Much more dangerous was the "newbie", who was unorthodox and unpredictable.

I was reminded of this recently as I watched Donald Trump race ahead of other Republican US presidential candidates by breaking all the rules.

In the political arena today, the most dangerous man to tangle with is, without a doubt, The Donald.

And as we look forward to the first Republican primary debate on August 6, his adversaries are experimenting with different techniques to handle this street brawler.

Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina senator, is a serious legislator but he is barely registering in the polls for president. In a stunt last week, Mr Trump publicly read out Mr Graham's personal mobile number - the rules say don't punch down, but then The Donald don't need no stinkin' rules.

Mr Graham responded with a bit of ju-jitsu of his own: releasing a video demonstrating the best ways to destroy a mobile phone, involving golf clubs and blenders.

The stunt showed the impact Mr Trump is having on US politics. He is making it more fun and entertaining - and more vapid. Serious candidates are stooping to his level to get attention.

It's not just Mr Graham. Last week, Senator Rand Paul, whose star power has greatly diminished since the rise of Mr Trump, released a video showing himself taking a chainsaw to the US tax code. It seems we have arrived at a point where the only way a senator can get attention is by releasing a stunt video.

Senator Ted Cruz was once a lightning rod on the Right, but has also been overshadowed by Mr Trump.

Speaking in front of the White House last Thursday about Iran, Mr Cruz was shouted down by anti-war protesters. He turned the tables on the hecklers, inviting some of them to debate with him in front of the cameras. In the old days, the spectacle would have dominated news coverage. But in the Trump era, it was more or less an asterisk. The big story was Mr Trump's visit to the Mexican border in Texas.

Mr Cruz has been sucking up to Mr Trump in a transparent attempt to steal his supporters if and when The Donald makes his exit.

But it is unclear if The Donald's voters are transferable and in the meantime, Mr Cruz has been hurt the most by Mr Trump's rise.

In politics, there is a phenomenon known as the Overton Window. In a nutshell, it suggests that injecting ultra-conservative views into the public debate is helpful because it makes conservative views appear moderate by comparison.

Next to Mr Trump, Mr Cruz looks moderate - which might be a good thing in a general election. But in a primary, this is death.

Mr Cruz's raison d'etre has always been premised on the notion that he was the most populist, most right-wing, and most tell-it-like-it-is guy in the race. This role has now been hijacked by Mr Trump.

Rick Perry, the former Texas governor, also a long shot for the nomination, has taken a decidedly different tack from the rest of the field. On Wednesday, he delivered a speech that included some of the most biting and substantive critiques of Trump-ism so far.

Accusing Mr Trump of espousing "nativism, not conservatism," Mr Perry's speech won the praise of many conservatives.

"Perry's speech is what political combat should be but rarely is," said conservative commentator John Podhoretz.

"Rick Perry, rising to the political moment," said Michael Gerson, a former speech writer for George W Bush.

Mr Perry's substantive criticism can be seen as both an act of courage and desperation. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.

Donald Trump's ascension has probably helped Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, more than anyone else. In the past two weeks, The Donald has overshadowed the presidential announcements of two governors, Wisconsin's Scott Walker and John Kasich, from Ohio - both serious candidates.

If Mr Trump is viewed by the establishment as an existential threat to the Republican brand, then there is no time to flirt with other candidates.

It's a binary choice between Trump and Bush - the entertainer and the adult.

Republicans are bobbing and weaving, punching and counter punching.

Sometimes they land blows. Sometimes they get hit.

But either way, one thing's for sure: The Donald is calling the shots.

(© Daily Telegraph London)

Matt K Lewis is a senior contributor at 'The Daily Caller' website in Washington

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