Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE spent weeks calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” who are “bringing drugs,” and neither the Beltway media nor the Republican Party’s establishment reacted with much more than a pro forma denunciation.
But that all changed in a hurry on July 18, when Trump called Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) a “loser” for ending up in a POW camp. Republican worthies screeched in anger, and conventional wisdom coalesced: Trump had gone too far and was doomed.
But that’s not what happened.
The day of the McCain comments, Trump was leading the GOP gaggle with 18 percent in The Huffington Post polling aggregate. Today, he’s at nearly 24 percent, with each new poll showing a more dominant lead than the one before.
No one else in the crowded field is above 13 percent. His shtick is resonating with base Republicans because he vocalizes, with crystal-clear clarity, their own hatreds, biases and bigotries.
The McCain controversy didn’t hurt Trump because McCain isn’t particularly beloved among Republicans. He may be lionized by D.C. media and GOP insiders, but to the activist Republican base, he’s downright toxic.
A May poll of Arizona Republican primary voters found McCain receiving just 41 percent approval to 50 percent disapproval, and a woeful 21 percent to 71 percent among those describing themselves as “very conservative.”
And among national Republican activists, McCain is likely even more disliked. So while reasonable people were pretty offended by Trump’s remarks, the Republican base — not made up of particularly reasonable people — was unconcerned.
In fact, they can’t get enough of Trump. For years, conservatives had to listen for “dog whistles” from their politicians. As the GOP’s star strategist Lee Atwater once explained, “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968, you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.” From Ronald Reagan talking about Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps, to contemporary conservatives beating up on the African-American president with claims that he was born in Kenya or that he “doesn’t love America,” euphemism has largely replaced outright bigotry.
But all that dog whistling is exhausting. Conservatives have convinced themselves they’re the silent American majority, so why should they tiptoe around their actual beliefs? Why are they so afflicted with Republicans afraid to shout their conservatism loud and clear?
And that’s the void Trump now fills, saying what Republicans think but are generally too smart to say out loud. And the base loves him for it.
So whether it is “investigating” President Obama’s birth certificate, painting all Latinos as rapists or claiming that “you won’t see another black president for generations” because of Obama and that’s bad for “all the African-American people” (no one claims George W. Bush ruined the presidency for “all the white people,” do they?), Trump has replaced the dog whistle with a solid-gold bullhorn.
That’s why his favorability rating among Republicans is now at 50 percent to 33 percent, even though it is at 27 percent to 59 percent among all Americans. The gap between conservatives and mainstream America has never been wider. And the more The Donald speaks and the crazier he sounds, the better his numbers among the GOP faithful.
The question now is whether Trump’s rise is more than a flash in the pan.
Logic says no way. But when the conservative lizard brain is at play, logic has nothing to do with it.
Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of political blog Daily Kos.