Time to Talk about Trump

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Steven Biel: So Lance, you got space on your car for your Trump 2016 bumper sticker? He's beginning to look like an unstoppable juggernaut—and he hasn't even started spending any of his yuuuuge fortune on campaign ads yet.

Lance Dutson: No way--for two reasons. First, I have a strict “no bumper sticker” policy. Living in Portland as a Republican has taught me a few things about discretion.

And second, Donald Trump is one of the worst things that ever happened to the GOP. The sooner we shuffle this clown off the stage the sooner Republicans can get back to really “making America great again.”

Left Brain: Steven Biel

Steven Biel is a political consultant and former campaign director at the progressive group MoveOn.org. He lives in Portland with his wife and two kids.
www.StevenBielStrategies.com

Right Brain: Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson is a political communications consultant, veteran of Maine Republican campaigns, and owner of As Maine Goes. He lives in Falmouth.
www.RedHillStrategies.com

Steven: I’m afraid you’re going to be waiting a long time, because with all his fact-free, hate-filled bluster, Trump is a perfect fit for the modern Republican Party.

Polls show that just 29 percent of Republicans think Obama was born in the U.S., and 54 percent still think he's Muslim. Two-thirds of Republicans say Islam encourages violence and that immigrants are more of a “burden” than a “source of strength" for America.

Trump isn’t winning despite his buffoonery and racism—he’s winning because of it.

Lance: Both parties suffer from some pretty strong fringe elements, and no doubt these hyper-partisans have a major influence on the day-to-day opinions of voters.

But it's a chicken-and-egg thing right now for the GOP. While some may blame the party itself for the rise of Trump, I think Trump's celebrity status has opened the door for his foolish rhetoric to be confused with legitimate policy positioning. This creates a movement of wannabe Trumps echoing illogical xenophobic nonsense, the same way the Kardashians likely spur a spike in plastic surgery.

But it's a sideshow, and it's not reflective of what the Republican Party stands for. And we've got a long proud history to prove that.

Steven: I'm not going to let you get away with that "both sides do it" nonsense. There's no Democratic equivalent to Trump—at least not since George Wallace 50 years ago. This is a guy who says one bigoted thing after another, and only goes up in the polls.

Let's face it: Racism is as much of a core plank in today’s Republican Party as tax cuts.

Lance: That's simply not the case, and that’s the kind of ridiculous rhetoric that will ultimately cost your party votes. There are some bad apples out there, but Republicans have a history of standing up to their own party when faced with these kinds of upheavals. Maine's own Margaret Chase Smith and Bill Cohen are fine examples. GOP presidential contenders are already pushing back hard on Trump, and once the primary field narrows a bit I think you'll see common decency prevail. Right now you have one Trump vs a handful of anti-Trumps splitting the counter-vote. Pare that down to one or two anti-Trumps and you'll see how the GOP electorate really feels.

Steven: Sorry Lance, I think you're whistling Dixie. This isn’t Bill Cohen and Margaret Chase Smith’s Republican Party anymore.

Trump skyrocketed after saying the vast majority of Mexican immigrants are rapists, murderers, or drug dealers. Carson broke out after saying no Muslim should be allowed to be president.

Add Ted Cruz, who is pushing the same brand of bigotry with only a bit more subtlety, and you're over 60%.

Even if a more establishment candidate can knock off the Trumps and Carsons, he or she will have to do it by kowtowing to the racist right-wing base just like John McCain and Mitt Romney did when they flip-flopped on immigration.

Lance:
These polls are virtually meaningless. Remember in 1975 when polling a year out suggested segregationist governor George Wallace would beat Jimmy Carter? Or how about Bill Clinton polling in single digits in 1991? Or John Kerry in single digits in 2003? Herman Cain leading the GOP field last time around? The GOP electorate will coalesce around a more centrist candidate than Trump or Carson; they always do.

The breathless broad-brushing that's happening now in Democratic circles is what you should be more concerned with. A Democratic candidate needs some Republicans in order to win the White House, and labeling the entire Republican Party as bigots and racists is not going to help form a majority consensus.

Steven: In the end, I think Trump might be doing a real service for America by revealing the ugliness at the core of the conservative movement. This kind of voter education is worth its weight in gold.

I do feel for Republicans like you, Lance. I know you’re as appalled by racism as I am. But at this point your choices are to link arms with the racists, support a Jon Huntsman-style also-ran, or join Jim Jeffords, Arlen Specter, and Lincoln Chafee in the growing ranks of former Republicans. I know you’re not doing the last one.

Lance: The GOP has an array of really solid presidential candidates. Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Jeb Bush--all of them represent facets of the Republican Party that this media-driven Trump sideshow has obscured. These are not bigots or racists, these are solid, honorable Republicans.

And any of them would draw a clear contrast to the ethically challenged Hillary Clinton. Her status as the Democratic nominee-apparent reflects some serious problems within your own party's culture, but we can save that for next time.

Steven: Elizabeth Warren was my first choice, but if it comes down to Clinton vs. Trump as it seems, I’ll have no hesitation putting a Ready for Hillary sticker on my car.