Trump crowds out GOP’s second tier

Donald Trump’s rise in the polls has caused heartburn for many people in the Republican Party, but it is the second-tier candidates in the presidential field who have been hurt most of all.

Candidates who have years of political accomplishment to their names are being starved of oxygen by the business tycoon. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, three-term Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are among the figures being sidelined by Trump — and their annoyance is bubbling to the surface.

{mosads}Earlier this week, Graham complained about the rules for the first major televised debate, which is less than a month away and will be limited to the top 10 candidates in the polls. At present, Trump would easily make the cut and Graham would not.

“I think my voice needs to be heard on foreign policy,” Graham said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “It’s July 2015. I don’t expect my numbers to be any better than they are. But I expect to be given a chance to take Donald Trump on, to talk about why I’m different than Rand Paul, to challenge everybody on the stage and have them challenge me. So this debate construct, I think, is bad for our party.”

Graham also slammed Trump for his controversial comments on immigration, saying that he was using his voice to “demean and slander a whole group of people.” And he insisted that debate rules that might exclude not just himself but also the sole female candidate in the GOP race, Carly Fiorina, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, showed Republicans being “really dumb as a party.”

Whereas leading contenders such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have the stature to avoid getting buried by the avalanche of Trump-related news and controversies, it is more difficult for lower-level contenders.

But even major figures in the GOP donor community who have no love for Trump now accept that little can be done to exclude him from the first debates.

“I don’t think you can step in to sideline him,” said one major donor, John Jordan, who has previously been critical of Trump. “The news organizations run the debates. … That’s a done deal, the party can’t intervene, and at some point you have to say there’s good and there’s bad in democracy.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s sheer media wattage blurs out other figures.

“There are few people who are as good at getting media attention as Donald Trump, who is doing it either through flashy statements or downright demagoguery,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. 

“The problem is that there are some second-tier candidates who might have a chance as underdogs or could become important national voices for the party, like a Lindsey Graham, — who find that there is less interest in them as the cameras and keyboards are turned toward New York’s real estate mogul and TV star.”

GOP candidates’ irritation with Trump is becoming clearer every day. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) insisted that the businessman is “not a conservative” on a number of issues, adding “all that glitters is not gold.” Perry said he was “offended” by Trump’s immigration comments.

Even former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, whose polls numbers assure him a place on the debate stage, is evidently feeling some annoyance.

Last week, Huckabee told Fox News Radio that while Trump was not “hurting” the Republican field, “I wish I was getting as much attention as he is, because anybody getting that much attention certainly is going to soar in the polls.”

Earlier this month, Huckabee told CNN he was more interested in discussing his own views on immigration than “getting in this battle of ‘are we with Trump or against Trump?’ ”

Candidates such as Huckabee desperately need media attention if they are to ascend to the top tier of candidates alongside Bush, Walker and Rubio. And that is less likely, experts say, as long as Trump commands center stage.

“News resources are allocated to where news is likely to happen — and that means to Trump, because he is likely to say something outrageous,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “He soaks up press assets, both in terms of attention and in terms of column inches in the newspapers.”

For now, there may not be much the second-tier candidates can do about it. Criticisms of Trump either slide off him or attract a mocking response from the man himself.

Addressing a rally in Phoenix last weekend, Trump had Bush in his crosshairs: “How can I be tied with this guy? He’s terrible. Terrible,” he said.

A new poll released Tuesday put Trump at the head of the Republican field. The survey, from Suffolk University and USA Today, gave him 17 percent backing, 3 points ahead  of Bush, his closest rival.

Donors such as Jordan argue that even candidates who are lagging ought to acknowledge that there is something beyond pure celebrity to Trump’s rise. Jordan argued that Trump’s scorn for politicians and his bombastic populism is proving attractive to Republican voters who are feeling the economic anxiety that, at the opposite end of the spectrum, pushes liberals toward the Democratic candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“It is incumbent upon the other [GOP] candidates not to concede that space,” he said. “They should be contesting ownership of that space with Mr. Trump.”

Other experts argue that patience is the best strategy for those candidates who are being crowded out by Trump.

“They have to continue on the premise that he will stumble and the public will weary of him,” said University of South Florida professor Susan MacManus. “They have got to continue to work at the grass roots right now. If they truly believe, they can win by waiting him out.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio Rand Paul

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video