Thomas Sowell: After months of watching all sorts of political polls, we are finally just a few weeks away from actually beginning to see some voting in primary elections. Polls let people vent their emotions. But elections are held to actually accomplish something.
The big question is whether the voters themselves will see elections as very different from polls. If Republican voters have consistently delivered a message through all the fluctuating polls over the past months, that message is those voters’ anger at the Republican establishment, which has grossly betrayed the promises that got a Republican Congress elected.
Whether the issue has been securing the borders, ObamaCare, runaway government spending or innumerable other concerns, Republican candidates have promised to fight the Obama administration’s policies — and then caved when crunch time came for Congress to vote.
The spectacular rise, and persistence, of Republican voter support for Donald Trump in the polls ought to be a wake-up call for the Republican establishment. But smug know-it-alls can be hard to wake up.
Even valid criticisms of Trump can miss the larger point that Republican voters’ turning to such a man is a sign of desperation and a telling indictment of what the Republican establishment has been doing for years — which they show pathetically few signs of changing.
Seldom have the Republicans seemed to have a better chance of winning a presidential election. The Democrats’ front-runner is a former member of an unpopular administration whose record of foreign policy failures as Secretary of State is blatant, whose personal charm is minimal and whose personal integrity is under criminal investigation by the FBI.
Meanwhile, the Republicans have fielded a stronger set of presidential aspirants than they have had in years. Yet it is by no means out of the question that the Republicans will manage to blow this year’s opportunity and lose at the polls this November.
In other times, this might just be the Republicans’ political problem. But these are not other times. After seven disastrous years of Barack Obama, at home and overseas, the United States of America may be approaching a point of no return, especially in a new age of a nuclear Iran with long-range missiles.
The next President of the United States will have monumental problems to untangle. The big question is not which party’s candidate wins the election but whether either party will choose a candidate that is up to the job.
That ultimate question is in the hands of Republicans who will soon begin voting in the primaries. Their anger may be justified, but anger is not sufficient reason for choosing a candidate in a desperate time for the future of this nation. And there is such a thing as a point of no return.
Voters need to consider what elections are for. Elections are not held to allow voters to vent their emotions. They are held to choose who shall hold in their hands the fate of hundreds of millions of Americans today and of generations yet unborn.
Too many nations, in desperate times, especially after the established authorities have discredited themselves and forfeited the trust of the people, have turned to some new and charismatic leader, who ended up turning a dire situation into an utter catastrophe.
The history of the 20th century provides all too many examples, whether on a small scale that led to the massacre in Jonestown in 1978 or the earlier succession of totalitarian movements that took power in Russia in 1917, Italy in 1922 and Germany a decade later.
Eric Hoffer’s shrewd insight into the success of charismatic leaders was that the “quality of ideas seems to play a minor role,” What matters, he pointed out, “is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.”
Is that the emotional release that Republican voters will be seeking when they begin voting in the primaries? If so, Donald Trump will be their man. But if the sobering realities of life and the need for mature and wise leadership in dangerous times is uppermost in their minds, they will have to look elsewhere.
Former governor Sarah Palin is an intelligent person, contrary to how liberals have tried to portray her. So it seemed to me that, if anybody could explain why they were promoting the candidacy of Donald Trump, it would be Governor Palin.
But I listened in vain for any evidence or logic that would provide a reason to vote for Donald Trump for the office of President of the United States. There were lots of ringing assertions, just as in Trump’s own speeches, but no convincing facts or demonstrable reasons.
After all these months, no coherent plans have emerged from the rhetoric of “The Donald”– just sweeping boasts about all the things he says he will achieve. But boasts about the unknown future are hardly reassuring.
However puzzling the fervent support for Donald Trump may be today, given how little basis there is for it, such blind faith is not unique in history. Other dire or desperate times have produced other charismatic leaders to whom desperate people have turned, with hopes of deliverance.
Trump is certainly different from establishment Republicans, but it that enough?
Things were appalling in 1917 Russia, when people turned to Lenin to try to get them out of a disastrous war abroad and a bitter economic situation at home.
The fact that Lenin was quite different from the czar who had led the country into catastrophe might have seemed promising to some people. He was also different from the ineffective Kerensky government that failed in its brief months in office. But the totalitarian government that Lenin established proved to be even worse than its predecessors.
The idea that someone quite different from those who led a nation into disaster can be expected to produce an improvement is a non sequitur that has seduced many people in many places and times.
Germany’s Weimar Republic was nobody’s idea of an ideal government but Hitler’s reign that followed was far worse in every way. Many Americans denounced the rule of the Shah of Iran, but he was never a worldwide sponsor of terrorism, like those who replaced him.
A pattern that would appear in many other places and times was one in which people’s hopes became focused on someone new, charismatic and with ringing rhetoric– but utterly untested for the job of governing a nation.
That is where we are today.
The Republican field of candidates has had a number of people with experience governing at the state level, so that they have a track record that we could scrutinize. But the media obsession with Trump has left little time for weighing the pros and cons of those governors.
Some of them have already had to withdraw before we learned whether their qualifications were good, bad or indifferent. This may be a misfortune for their political careers but it can turn out to be a disaster for the country, if it leaves the field open only to people whom we must judge solely on the basis of their rhetoric.
There are still some governors left in the running, but they are not among the candidates who have the highest support in the polls, where most have received the support of fewer than 10 percent of the voters polled.
Former governor Jeb Bush looked like the front runner at the outset, especially with his impressive amount of money in his campaign chest. But it is not nearly as easy to buy an election as some commentators seemed to think, so perhaps we can take some solace from the discrediting of that notion.
We might also take some solace from the support received by Dr. Ben Carson, despite the media-fed notion that conservatives are racists. Even after his brief time leading the candidates in the polls has passed, Dr. Carson remains the candidate with the highest favorability rating among Republican voters who were polled.
But there are few other things to feel positive about as the primaries approach. Common sense by the voters may be the best we can hope for. And that can save the day, after all. In fact, they may be all that can save the day.