The Republican debate in Detroit looked more like a gang rape than a political forum. The assault began with an orchestrated off-campus attack on Donald Trump by Mitt Romney, who recently blew an election against a failed president – a defeat that led directly to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians, and a refugee problem in the millions that has become a threat to Europe and possibly the United States. Four years ago, when he was running for the presidency, Romney praised Trump as a business genius with a masterly grasp of the economy, while accepting his financial contribution. Yesterday, the same Mitt Romney denounced Trump as a phony and a business fraud who would wreck the economy and who should be stopped by any means necessary. This assault, which occupied the news cycle for the entire day, was followed at the evening debate by the anti-Trump ambush conducted by Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. They accused Trump of being a con-man, a phony and a fraud. Their attack was supported by Fox “moderators” Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace who came armed with videos designed to discredit Trump (and only Trump) as – you guessed it - a phony and a fraud.
The anti-Trump crowd seems to have missed the following irony, evident from the beginning of the primary campaign: instead of destroying Trump such attacks only serve to destroy the reputations of the attackers and increase Trump’s support. Like many, I have spoken of Romney as probably the most decent man to run for the presidency in recent times. Even though I wasn’t a fan of his politically I held that view until his attacks on Trump, which effectively exposed Romney exposed as a hypocrite, a liar, and a treacherous fair weather friend.
Another victim of his own anti-Trump attacks is Marco Rubio, whose numbers have sunk in lock-step with his transformation from the passionate conservative who had inspired many (including myself) to think of him as probably the best face for Republicans in the coming election, into a political hatchet-man and thug. Because of his deserved reputation as a conservative willing to stand up for his principles, Ted Cruz has suffered less from his personal attacks on Trump, but they certainly haven’t enhanced his image. Before the gang rape started, I liked and worked for Ted Cruz, who has shown the kind of political courage that conservatives long for. Cruz is also very smart – smart enough to know that when businessman Trump lines the pockets of powerful Democrats he is buying influence and not “funding the architects of Obamacare,” as Cruz claimed in the debate. Cruz is smart enough to know that Trump was not a politician or political activist until this year and therefore that he was not “flip-flopping” as a politician who funded both sides would be. But that knowledge didn’t prevent Cruz from attacking Trump over and over as someone who funded Hillary and the Democrats.
Voters are not stupid, and they understand this. If you watched the debate, there was no way you could think on the basis of the arguments that Trump won. He was beaten up, testy, and didn’t defend himself as well as he could have. For all intents and purposes he probably lost. On the other hand, as I write this Trump is winning the Drudge poll asking who won the debate with 54% of those responding. Cruz is second with 26% and Rubio is last with 5%. Why is this so? Because voters can recognize a gang rape when they see one and they don’t like it. His attackers have turned Donald Trump the bully into the victim. Trump is seen as the underdog in this fight, and voters are rallying around the underdog as they normally do.
There is another dimension to this – a matter of style. When Trump aims a personal attack at “Little Marco,” voters see that it is done with humor and forgive the nastiness. But when Rubio turns his conservative idealism and passion into below-the-belt attacks on Trump as a “con-man” and a “liar,” voters see his behavior as a betrayal of the character of the Marco Rubio who once inspired them. It is true that Trump started the personal insults and introduced this regrettable trope into the Republican primary season. But the collective assault on Trump’s character by elements in the Republican Party who would never get so nasty with Democrats serve to create sympathy for Trump and turn the tables on his attackers.
This all should have been obvious through the fate of Chris Christie when he bullied Rubio in an earlier debate and was rejected by the electorate shortly thereafter. How do the orchestrators of the anti-Trump campaign think that voters look at them? The conservative electorate is distressed over the failure of Republicans to take on a traitorous president who has given a path to nuclear power and billions of dollars to our mortal enemies in Iran. How does the Republican establishment think the voters will see them as they pull out all the stops to destroy the character of a man who is a familiar personality to Americans and has been for decades? Republicans have accused Trump of failing to denounce David Duke, insinuating that he is a racist. Are they trying to impersonate Democrats who make this accusation against all Republicans? Americans know Trump and know that he is obviously not a racist. So the insinuations reflect badly on the accusers.
Voters are grateful to Trump for confronting the most immediate threats to our nation in a way that no other Republican has. Specifically he has raised the issue of our open border in a politically incorrect way, as he has the prospect of mass immigration by Muslims from terrorist regions that Democrats want to encourage. Has Trump framed these confrontations in a way that opens him to attack and that he should correct? Yes he has. And yes he or someone else should. But what voters also see is that the Republican attacks on Trump that are equally reckless and extreme. Are criminals coming across our open border from Mexico? In fact there are an estimated 400,000 convicted criminals in this country illegally, and only half of them are in prison (and that at our expense). Even if Trump is wrong in his posing of this issue, he is right. Moreover, his political incorrectness and the outrage it inspired has brought it to the attention of all Americans. That is a plus too. It would be even more of a plus if the other Republican candidates and their PACs would make the necessary corrections instead of acting like Democrats and attacking Trump’s border concerns as a racist. They’re not.
Conservatives are upset at the fact that Trump’s speeches aren’t full of words like “constitutionalism” and “constitutional principles.” But the average voter is not going to understand how “constitutional principles” are going to stop the invasion of people here illegally, many of whom are indeed criminals, and none of whom are screened in any way, shape or fashion. What they will understand is “I’m going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it.” Republicans finally have a candidate who is a fighter and a salesman. Trump has already expanded the Republican ranks. Yet a formidable coalition of Republicans have set out to destroy him in a way that will take down the party if it continues, and possibly the country as well. In the next weeks and months the right way to beat Trump, if that is your agenda, is to show that you can fight the Democrats and win Republican primary votes better than he can.
David Horowitz is the founder of the Horowitz Freedom Center and the author of, among many other books, The Black Book of the American Left, a multi-volume collection of his conservative writings. The latest volume, Progressive Racism, will be published by Encounter Books in March, 2016.