In “The Misery of the Mini-Trumps” Mr. Bruni says subtract Trump’s celebrity and his crudely articulated approach doesn’t fly. Just ask the candidates parroting him. Here he is:
In his race against Marco Rubio to become the Republican nominee for one of Florida’s two seats in the Senate, the rich, brash homebuilder Carlos Beruff could not be welding himself more tightly to Donald Trump.
A recent television ad of his attacked Rubio for not being as tough as Trump. He affirmed and then one-upped Trump’s past call for a ban on Muslim immigrants, suggesting a prohibition against anyone from the Middle East except Israel.
His tweets are Trumpian, including this proclamation: “I won’t read a bunch of political crap off a teleprompter.” The Miami New Times crowned him “the Cuban-American Donald Trump.” “Little Trump of Florida,” said the publication Roll Call.
So how’s that working out for Beruff?
Not so well.
Polls put him anywhere from 30 to 60 points behind Rubio in the primary, which takes place Tuesday. He trailed by double-digit margins even before Trump wanly and dutifully signaled support for Rubio earlier this month.
And that’s not because Florida Republicans are Rubio stalwarts. In the state’s presidential primary last March, Trump trounced him by almost 20 points.
But it turns out that Trump’s magic, if you can call it that, resists cloning. It’s not easily transferable, either. Unlike other political supernovas, Trump doesn’t have coattails or for that matter a coat — not even a windbreaker.
And that casts serious doubt on the existence of Trumpism minus Trump.
Has he created anything along the lines of the movement that he sometimes brags about? Has he assembled a coalition of voters that will outlast his candidacy and can deliver victory to a candidate who emulates him but lacks the reality-show stardom, the glittering towers, the garish tresses?
Beruff’s situation suggests not, and so do the sorry fates of other Republican candidates who channeled Trump or genuflected before him — including, most prominently, Paul Nehlen, whose early August primary face-off with Paul Ryan in Wisconsin drew national attention.
Part of Nehlen’s case against Ryan was that he’d “shown more passion in attacking Trump than he has ever shown in defending Americans,” according to one statement that his campaign released.
Trump lavished Twitter love on Nehlen before party leaders shamed him into grudgingly endorsing Ryan. Prominent Trump surrogates, including Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter, beat the drums for Nehlen. Coulter visited Wisconsin to stump for him, telling voters: “This is it. This is your last chance to save America.”
America was not saved. Voters chose Ryan over Nehlen by nearly 70 points.
Without doubt, Trump has exposed fissures in — and the fragility of — the Republican base. He has tapped into a potent, pervasive anger among American voters, and some of the positions that he’s staked out are much, much more popular than was previously understood.
Bernie Sanders’s surprisingly strong showing against Hillary Clinton helped to prove that. While Sanders didn’t share Trump’s anti-immigrant rants or racist appeals, he, too, questioned America’s open trade practices, the scope of its military interventions, the power of money in elections, and the degree to which the economy was stacked in favor of corporate interests and entrenched elites.
That complaint will survive Trump, no matter how his candidacy ultimately fares, and both the Republican and Democratic parties will be forced to grapple with it seriously going forward.
But wrapping it in a package of florid bigotry, provocative propositions, crude insults and callous language doesn’t seem to have much traction beyond Trump.
Trumpism isn’t the kind of force in 2016 that the Tea Party was in 2010. The next Congress won’t be full of Republicans who ran on Trump’s signature ideas or have any particular investment in them.
And not one of those ideas — his extreme brand of protectionism, his call to re-examine military alliances, his threat of mass deportations — shows any sign of becoming Republican dogma the way that supply-side economics did in the wake of Ronald Reagan’s evangelism for it. There’s less evidence of Republicans’ moving en masse toward Trump’s platform than of Trump himself retreating from it, as he did on immigration last week.
By Election Day, there may not even be Trumpism with Trump.
As for the mini-Trumps, they’ve known nothing but misery. Consider Kentucky’s Mike Pape, who set his sights on a congressional seat. He ran a television ad that shows three ostensibly Mexican men with flashlights and wire cutters approaching a fence that says “U.S. Border Do Not Cross.”
“Once through,” one of them vows, “we’ll stop Donald Trump!” Another chimes in that they’ll also have to stop Pape, because he’ll “help Trump build the wall.”
The commercial generated more commentary than votes. In the Republican primary in May, he lost to James Comer by 37 points.
That was a squeaker of a contest compared with the 58-point loss by Eugene Yu in a Republican congressional primary in Georgia, also in May. Yu had run — and lost — before, but was convinced that Trump’s success augured victory this time around.
“This is the man I’ve been looking for,” Yu said during his campaign. “Everything he says, I’ve been saying all along.”
It fell on deaf ears yet again.
Jim McKelvey in Virginia, Matt Erickson in Minnesota, Andrew Heaney in New York: All wrapped themselves in the Trump banner as they sought the Republican nomination for congressional seats, and all suffered huge, humiliating defeats.
In a fiercely contested Republican primary in North Carolina, Representative Renee Ellmers didn’t exactly style herself after Trump, but she did receive the first congressional endorsement he made after becoming the de facto Republican presidential nominee. She was beaten nonetheless.
The mini-Trumps aren’t all that many, and each had flaws unrelated to their messages, so it’s hard to know precisely how much to read into them.
But their failure to bloom under Trump’s sun is a fitting metaphor. In a bid for the White House as suffused with self-love as the rest of his life, he doesn’t direct his light outward. It shines only on him.
And the usual symbiosis between a major party’s presidential nominee and its other candidates doesn’t really exist with Trump. He’s not developing a ground game that might benefit Republicans in other races.
Last month Hillary Clinton “spent almost $3 million to field a staff of 700 people at her Brooklyn headquarters and in swing states around the country,” Nicholas Confessore and Rachel Shorey noted recently in The Times. Trump, in contrast, “spent more money on renting arenas for his speeches than he did on payroll.”
His operation, they wrote, is “more concert tour than presidential campaign.”
Its music is peculiar to him, and it’s fading fast.
Well, Frank, sooner or later some of you “pundits” will have to address the fact that the monster of racism, misogyny, bigotry and know-nothingism that the Republican Party has worked for 40 years to create, the culmination of which is the candidacy of Donald Trump, will remain after he’s gone. Any clever ideas on what to do about that?