To be sure, Trump’s candidacy tarnishes the Republican brand by playing into a caricature of us: dumb, boorish, mean, wealthy, white and misogynistic. Trump doesn’t act alone, though. He graced the debate stage because more Republicans prefer him to Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, or George Pataki.
What’s wrong with us?
Frank Luntz’ debate focus group highlighted how many Republicans walked into the debate viewing him positively, but were disgusted with him by the night’s end.
“I was repulsed by it,” one respondent said.
“He was mean, he was angry, he had no specifics, he was bombastic,” said another.
Most Republicans are surprised that they were surprised. Of course, Trump lacks substance. Of course, Trump is bombastic. This is why we detest him.
When asked about his abrasive, offensive style, Trump offers the red meat his supporters gobble up in droves.
“Mr. Trump,” Megyn Kelly asked at the debate, “one of the things people like about you is that you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter…You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.’…Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments on women’s looks. You once told a woman on the Celebrity Apprentice that it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees…How will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who is likely to be the nominee, that you are part of the war on women?”
To this question, the crowd roars in amusement. Trump pouts and delivers:
“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct…What I say is what I say.”
In spite of Trump’s ugly rhetoric, the crowd cheered. Luntz’ focus group ticked positive. And 24 million people saw the Republican frontrunner defend vile comments against women. Luntz, himself, says that conservatives were not responding to Trump’s sentiments about women as much as to his negative feelings about Rosie O’Donnell, but his point is largely irrelevant.
This moment in the debate highlights a problem we have on the right. Political correctness represents a legitimate problem sometimes. The problem with political correctness is that the essence of what is described gets lost in euphemism. Islamic terrorism becomes “workplace violence.” Baby becomes “fetus.” Retreat becomes “redeploy,” etc. To Trump supporters, and too many other Republicans, though, opposing political correctness offers cover to say offensive things without reproach.
What Trump said about Rosie O’Donnell is cruel, disrespectful and unnecessary. What Trump said about the woman appearing on Celebrity Apprentice is deplorable. When he says these things, and gets a high-five from his Amen-choir at the Church against Political Correctness, it puts him in the position of defending ugliness. When we cheer him on, condone his antics and make him our frontrunner, we endorse the “crass frat boy” behavior, when all we really wanted to do was defend truthful language.
Republicans must be more mindful about our perception. Yes, we need to fight for our principles. Yes, we must be brave enough to deliver unpopular news. Yes, we must stand against political correctness. But the opposite of political correctness isn’t hate speech–it’s truth.