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The mystery of Donald Trump’s appeal solved by Frank Rich

REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Donald Trump giving the key note speech at the Republican Party Lincoln Day event in Birch Run, Mich., on Tuesday.

Frank Rich, a former New York Times columnist who now writes for New York magazine, usually gives a weekly commentary in the form of an exchange with another member of the magazine’s staff. In this week’s version, Alex Carp asked Rich for his take on how The Donald can remain atop the Republican polls despite various offensive remarks, such as his attack on Megyn Kelly. Rich replied:

“The mystery of Trump’s hold on Republican voters is no mystery. As many, including me, have said, his xenophobia and misogyny have long been orthodoxy among the party’s base. Just look at the Fox News debate itself. Though Kelly called Trump out on his history of misogynistic insults, none of his nine opponents onstage took exception to his crude attack on Rosie O’Donnell or to the laughter and cheers it aroused from the audience. (The incident was an echo of that 2012 GOP debate where no one onstage dared chastise the audience for booing Stephen Hill, a gay serviceman in Iraq who asked the candidates a question about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell via video.)

“Nor did anyone onstage dissent when Scott Walker and Marco Rubio declared that women should be outlawed from seeking abortions even if their own lives are at stake. How glibly and eagerly they decreed capital punishment for women who have the ill fortune to end up in tragic, potentially fatal pregnancies.

“The difference between Trump and his cohort is that he shouts his party’s ugliest views at the top of his lungs and without apology rather than sugarcoating them in Frank Luntz–tested euphemisms and code words. What the GOP Establishment wants is Trumpism — and Trump supporters — without the embarrassing spectacle of Trump himself. Now he has called their bluff and is holding the entire Republican Party hostage. The Establishment would like to blow him up so that he’ll stop giving up the game by calling attention to the extremist views and constituents in the GOP base, but every attempt to sideline him has backfired. Trump, meanwhile, retains the power to blow up the party’s 2016 hopes by coaxing his followers either to stay home on Election Day or to join him in some quixotic third-party sideshow.”

Comments (47)

  1. Submitted by jim hughes on 08/14/2015 - 08:38 pm.

    it’s all about the Deal

    Trump doesn’t really want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in a sham Presidential campaign – and he doesn’t intend to. In reality, this candidacy has to be about a ‘deal’. There’s something concrete Trump wants, which the Republican party can potentially give him, and at some point they may have to – if he doesn’t suffer some sort of meltdown in the polls.

    So what does he want? Maybe some political or legal concessions, somewhere, relating to his real estate or casino plans. Yes Trump is rich – but not as rich as he wants to be; he’s not yet a player at the level of, say, George Soros.

    Rather than just replaying his public performances – with amplification – I’d like to see the press try to unravel what might really be going on here behind the scenes. Somewhere there may be a billion dollar opportunity that Trump could move on – with a bit of back room cooperation from certain Republican office holders.

    Trump wants to acquire the Republican “base” – and then sell it back to the party.

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 08/14/2015 - 03:33 pm.

    When I want to get an opinion on a Republican person I often go to Frank Rich for fair and balanced observation. What a pile of liberal jibberish. Folks are tired of career politicians looking out for themselves, getting in bed with lobbyists and lying about what they are going to do for you. That is in both parties. The bigger the Government the more room for corruption, so career politicians want Govt to as big and complex as possible. Anybody, including Trump, willing to take them on will get support.

  3. Submitted by Scott Kelley on 08/14/2015 - 08:38 pm.


    I’m not even a Republican but I just don’t see where Mr. Black quoting Mr. Rich adds much to the discussion.

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/14/2015 - 09:12 pm.

    After 6-1/2 years of scurrilous attacks on Obama, along with hit reports on dangerous aliens, voter fraud, Trayvon Martin, black riots (what do they want anyway?)and fawning reports on Clive Bundy and Tea Partiers, does the conservative media really think the pitchfork and torch crowd, along with the politicians that sprung up from them, will tone it down and play it with decorum until the election?

    Fox, who sees it all as a propaganda war thought so–an Orwellian plot flip wasn’t beyond their abilities–unthinking “as mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” mob turned to reasonable discourse among thoughtful and serious politicians.

    Apparently not

    But I think it is disturbing to the stone-cold behind-the-scene players in the Republican party how much their 2016 is jeopardized by Trump.

  5. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/15/2015 - 07:31 am.

    Oooh, How Fun!

    Let me try one: the reason that so many on the left are utterly silent about the corrupt looking actions of Hillary Clinton, their front runner, is because their desire for power is much stronger than their desire for justice. Despite all of the things they’ve said about clean money and honesty, they’ve decided that the political future of all things Clinton is a higher goal.
    How is that?

    Also, a question, if a group of political people don’t object when one of their political opponents is attacked, is that more a symptom of normal political back and forth or a sign of some kind of hatred? Asking on behalf of liberals who enjoyed Frank Rich’s attack on their political opponents…

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/15/2015 - 09:45 am.

      “corrupt looking actions”

      are in the eye of the beholder.
      You’ve just stated an allegation.
      Can you back it up?

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/15/2015 - 01:20 pm.

        Corrupt Looking

        Sure I can back it up. While holding an office of high power, she took money from people who could profit from her decisions. She then made policy choices that helped them out. That looks corrupt to me. (I’m guessing that it looks corrupt to almost anyone who doesn’t have a stake in her continued success. The poll numbers for her trustworthiness are abysmal.)
        As this was happening, she was using a personal email system that was outside of State Department policy. The most likely reason for this was to avoid the scrutiny that comes with the office. She then destroyed the server and lied about what emails she sent and received. Again, it looks like corruption is at the heart of that.

        We ask people in high office and security positions to avoid the appearance of impropriety for just this reason. We don’t want to be in a constant position of having to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt whether bribes have been exchanged. We simply expect them to act in a way that we KNOW they haven’t.
        If this was a Republican, this would be a clear cut case of wrong-doing, right? But instead a whole political party has to pretend that there is nothing wrong in such behavior. Taking money from people when you’ll be doing things that might benefit them is not something that normal people do. Going to great lengths to destroy communications isn’t something that normal people do either.
        It looks like corruption.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/15/2015 - 05:09 pm.

          Please tell me

          These are still vague allegations, not specifics. Are you accusing her of accepting bribes? From whom, and for what? Those would be federal offenses.
          And please tell me how she profited by encouraging people to contribute to a (federally regulated) foundation?
          Still nothing but a batch of alligators out there.

          • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/16/2015 - 08:19 pm.

            Russian Uranium

            This one looks the worst:

            “As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.
            And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.”

            That doesn’t look good to me. This one also stinks (and I know that the source, Salon, isn’t that trustworthy):

            This type of behavior would have gotten less connected people in serious trouble. Possibly prison. Fortunately for Clinton, she has powerful friends!

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/17/2015 - 09:37 am.

              Please tell me what law was broken

              The donations were to a foundation managed (under federal regulation) by the Clinton’s, not to the Clinton’s themselves. That foundation’s appropriate use of the donations has been documented (I believe that you can also find it in the Times).

              • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/17/2015 - 01:22 pm.

                The Crime

                Engaging in public life while a Clinton. One may look for it in the statutes until blue in the face, but it must be there. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see the fits of apoplexy any mention of the Clintons will cause.

              • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/17/2015 - 08:27 pm.

                What Laws?

                Very broadly, it looks like bribery. Bribery is (obviously) a problem but it’s also hard to prove when it comes to votes. That’s why the standard is to avoid even the *appearance* of impropriety. This really isn’t hard to understand.

                Do you think it was wrong of the Obama administration to want a tight rein on what contributions were given to the Clinton foundation? Was that some pointless regulation that they just threw in there? Was it some kind of optional thing, like the rules about confidentiality in emails?

                • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/17/2015 - 10:57 pm.


                  was a political rival of the Clintons.
                  There are many possible reasons for his actions; he hasn’t confided them to me.

                  The only one of the current Presidential candidates in both parties who might meet your standards is Bernie Sanders, and I’m not sure about him.
                  Any time you have political contributions (although that’s not what you’re talking about here) there is always the possibility of some sort of tacit quid pro quo.

                  What it boils down to is you don’t like Hillary, and you’re willing to draw the most negative conclusions about an activity that has benefited many people (it is a real foundation, not a political front).


                • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/18/2015 - 09:45 am.

                  Bribery is hard to prove, because the crime requires a quid pro quo. Avoiding even the “appearance” of impropriety is a vague standard that is meaningless when it comes to very broad proof of a criminal offense.

                  I think it comes down to a fundamental dislike or disapproval of anything Hilary or Bill Clinton touch. Whether that falls into the category of “mindless” is a topic for another time.

                • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/18/2015 - 03:23 pm.

                  And then

                  there’s Scott Walker and the Milwaukee stadium deal.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/17/2015 - 12:35 pm.

      Remind Us

      How does a rant about the media coverage of Hillary Clinton have any relation to a story about Donald Trump?

      “Asking on behalf of liberals who enjoyed Frank Rich’s attack on their political opponents…” I’m not going to check it out and give them the traffic, but I wonder how many conservatives, in their endless quest for fairness, badger PowerLine about their biased treatment of liberals? Asking on behalf of conservatives who enjoyed, etc.

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/17/2015 - 08:35 pm.


        I really don’t know how many conservatives badger Powerline. Is that really the standard that you want to hold Mr Black to? I don’t want the writings here to become some kind of mindless bashing of the ‘other’. I’m sad when they do. One of the things that drew me here was the desire to really get at issues in a fair way. Usually that happens. Even when Mr Black doesn’t agree with Republicans (most of the time) he can understand their arguments. If this becomes another place where the other side is dismissed as ‘crazies’, then it becomes a lost cause. I’ll certainly stop reading.

        There are many valid critiques of Republicans and Trump but the Frank Rich piece seems like little but juvenile name calling. Just red meat for people who want to think that their opponents are mindless haters. Does anyone here really understand the concerns of people who think that we have too many illegal immigrants or is it too simply chalked up to xenophobia and dismissed? I don’t really share those concerns but at least I can understand them! It’s obvious that Rich can’t, or won’t. That makes him much less valuable to listen to, not more.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/18/2015 - 09:42 am.

          Well and Good

          What I see is that “fairness” demands any criticism of a Republican be balanced by criticism–however strained–of a Democrat.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/15/2015 - 07:59 am.

    Right on target

    Perhaps Mr. Smith should read Mr. Rich more often. My own view is that, in this instance, Rich is right on target regarding Mr. Trump. The Donald’s thinking seems mostly to consist of numerous prejudices that he holds in common with a good many others who like to call themselves “conservative.” Rich’s comments about the silence of the rest of the field while Trump insulted Megyn Kelly, and especially in regard to Scott Walker’s and Marco Rubio’s stance regarding abortion, struck me as absolutely on the mark. That silence in the face of sexist insult and, as Rich phrased it, “casual capital punishment” for women whose lives are threatened by a pregnancy, speaks volumes, unfortunately, about the character of the current Republican field, or at least the “top 10” who were deemed popular enough to take part in Fox’s faux-debate.

  7. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/15/2015 - 08:06 am.

    The Appeal of Trump

    I can’t stand the man either, but if you want to actually try and understand his appeal, start by reading this:–even-some-democrats/2015/08/15/cee648f0-42bf-11e5-8ab4-c73967a143d3_story.html

    The article is a ‘man on the ground’ report on Trump in Fling MI. The locals have seen the auto industry crater and they want to hear how someone can restore their former glory. I don’t think it’s possible, but I can understand how the people living there would hope that it is.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/15/2015 - 09:47 am.

      In other words

      Trump succeeds by appealing to ignorance and wishful thinking.
      Back to Mencken:
      “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem–neat, plausible, and wrong.”
      H. L. Mencken, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/15/2015 - 01:08 pm.

        Wishful Thinking

        Well, yeah. I think that’s exactly the reason that he appeals. I don’t think that he can somehow turn the clock back on globalization or somehow return the union in MI to its glory days before economics caught up with it. But. I can at least put myself in the shoes of the people who get caught up in it. Just like I can understand all of the people who got caught up in ‘Hope and Change’.

        The Mencken quote is a great one.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 08/15/2015 - 12:35 pm.

      Flint has had been dead for decades.

      Of course it won’t return to “former glory.” Besides, Trump would be the last person to even attempt to make that happen. He’s the guy that would have outsourced and moved those manufacturing facilities elsewhere if it made him an extra buck. I’m sure Trump appeals to two types of people….grumpy xenophobes who are having a sad because the brand of bigotry and misogyny they’ve always practiced has been exposed for what it is. The other faction is the uneducated…people that actually believe Trump is going to deport “every single illegal alien” and build a giant wall to keep them out. Like this quote from Brenda in the WaPo piece that you linked us to…”He’s a businessman,” she said. “Being a businessman, he knows the ways around. I don’t think he’d go to Congress and ask. I think he’d just do it.”
      Why do I think Brenda and her husband are the same people who scream about Obama being a tyrant and whine about his executive orders?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/16/2015 - 01:41 pm.


      (the last place I’d go for a ‘Fling’) is an outcropping of Detroit (my wife had family there) and was pretty depressing even fifty years ago. The epitome of the rust belt. There’s simply nothing to replace the heavy industry (automobile assembly plants and subcontractors) that it lived on.
      And like Detroit, any rebirth will be as a much smaller entity.
      Rolling the clock back is wishful thinking.

  8. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/16/2015 - 03:23 pm.

    Trump is no republican

    In recent speeches he’s argued two or three positions that resonate with republican voters, such as being much tougher on immigration and advocating pro-business solutions to restore our collapsed economy, such as making it more attractive to bring low-skill manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. from Mexico and China. He’s also supported the restoration of our weakened military.

    But those are positions that democrats of Jack Kennedy’s era also held.

    Trump’s also gone on record as being in favor of single-payer health care, gun control and a progressive income tax run by the IRS … positions antithetical to conservative republican orthodoxy.

    His success in the polls is not unlike Jesse Ventura’s when he ran for governor because he’s unorthodox. He says whatever comes to mind and some of it makes sense to some of the people. That doesn’t make him a republican just because he’d prefer to run on the republican ticket instead of the democrat one. In fact, if his good friend Hillary Clinton wasn’t running, maybe he would be running as a democrat.

    But he obviously sees the democrats as anti-business, anti-military, big-government worshippers and their leaders as inexperienced panderers, with no background in the real world, who will say whatever it takes to get votes with an electorate they see as members of various racial and ethnic groups who want something from government.

    That still doesn’t make him a republican. And if the primaries are limited to registered republicans, he’ll stand no chance of getting the nomination.

    Oh, and by the way. The reason conservatives didn’t come rushing to Megyn Kelly’s defense is because she, along with her fellow debate moderator Chris Wallace, are not seen as friendly to the conservative cause, and in fact they have a history of using GOP debates to ask unflattering and embarrassing questions to republican candidates. She’s not seen as one of us, as Frank Rich seems to think.

    Watch this YouTube video to see her try to embarrass Newt Gingrich and hear the cheers from the audience when he makes her look foolish.

  9. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/16/2015 - 03:59 pm.

    I agree

    Trump is mostly pro Trump — he’ll run for whoever will have him, and in the meantime enjoy the attention.
    The main difference between Trump and Jesse is that most people who voted for Ventura were voting for ‘none of the above’. I doubt that they though he would win, and I suspect that if the election had been rerun the next day, Jesse would have been a distant third.

    As for making a fool of Gingrinch, that’s not hard.
    Mostly he does that himself these days.

  10. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/16/2015 - 04:02 pm.


    any question asking for a specific answer is “unflattering and embarrassing” to most Republican candidates (Kasich may be an exception). The worst thing that you can do to Trump is make him come up with specific answers (numbers) about how he’s going to implement and pay for his vague proposals without major tax increases.

  11. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/17/2015 - 09:50 am.

    What mystery?

    There’s no mystery as to why Trump is so popular. Anyone paying attention has been saying that since the last time he threw his toupee into the ring–the Republican base likes this guy because he’s not afraid to be base out loud. As for Trump not being a “real Republican,” and his popularity being more akin to being a novelty like Jesse Ventura–remember, Ventura got elected. Novelty can have power. The GOP has a hot potato with Trump, and no one to throw him to yet. If they’re lucky, they’ll have a chance to unload him with enough time for their hands to cool before the election.

  12. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 08/17/2015 - 03:29 pm.

    Valid points

    I think Eric Black highlighted Frank Rich’s comment because it hit home with valid points about the true character of the Republican base. I noticed none of the comments above actually said that Rich was wrong. One doesn’t have to agree with someone’s ideology to make valid points about the mind set of adherents to such ideology.

  13. Submitted by Charles Thompson on 08/17/2015 - 03:59 pm.


    Face it – Rich writes well and Trump is a polished attention getter. What always gets me is the outsider meme which goes something like this. You should elect me for this office because I am a virgin as far as this kind of work is concerned. Does he do brain surgery too?

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/17/2015 - 06:28 pm.

      It worked for Obama

      I’m not a Trump supporter in the least but Barack Obama would not do well in an employment interview with Donald Trump. As most business owners, Trump requires at least some management experience before you apply for a management opening in the real world.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 08/17/2015 - 11:50 pm.

        I’m fairly certain

        I could bankrupt multiple business ventures, (including a casino), galivant around, bedding multiple trophy wives, whilst living free of financial concern due to my vast inheritance. Where do I sign up for the Presidency? Gonna be a long two years Dennis, if this caricature is the cream of your party’s crop. Hilarious to be sure, but long.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/18/2015 - 09:24 am.

    What mystery?

    Look at Trump, look at republican voters over the last four decades… where’s the mystery? I honestly don’t know why anyone would be surprised by the republican embrace of Trump. By the way, everyone does realize that 25% of republican voters works out to what? 10%-15% of the available voting population? If that. Trump looses by double digits to any democrat but that’s not a mystery either because the republican party has been courting an increasingly narrow and irrelevant “base” for decades now.

    Trump is just a symptom of larger death spiral republicans have steered themselves into. The only way out is for republicans to learn how to vote intelligently.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/18/2015 - 10:05 am.

      I’d rather have the problem with Trump

      than what to do about my party’s leading candidate who is under investigation by the FBI for obstruction of justice, a felony.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/18/2015 - 10:34 am.

        Under Investigation

        You’re talking about Rick Perry, right? Because technically, he is no longer “under investigation,” what with the indictment and all. There’s also Scott “Person of Interest” Walker, but he has managed to rig the Wisconsin judiciary so well that he is apt to continue skating for the time being.

        Neither of them are front runners.

        Incidentally, do you know what “obstruction of justice” means? And do you know why the FBI is investigating Hillary Clinton?

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/18/2015 - 10:41 am.

        Are you talking about Perry?

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/18/2015 - 11:18 am.

        Exactly your problem

        This is why voters like you have led your party into a death spiral. Instead of taking care of your own house every time a problem arises you point at someone else instead of dealing with your own. So you’ll vote for Trump and Hillary will win, and you’ll be “angry”. Meanwhile the next round of republican candidates will be even more bizarre than this one.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 08/18/2015 - 12:29 pm.

        One might be worried

        If anyone but those already guaranteed not to vote for said candidate cared even an iota about it. As they don’t, it’s nothing more than yet another “froth at the mouth” moment for folks whose already fringe opinions become less and less relevant by the hour. Either way I’ll make my stand on the hill for Bernie as long as is possible and then vote to ensure that the Supreme Court starts moving in the right direction (the only real issue of consequence given the “baked in” make up of the house for the next election cycle at least).

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