History confirms; democracy is messy. There are many more pretenders who seek public office than leaders. And by leader, I am assuming more than audacious posturing.
The Republican Party candidate shoot out featured much more audacity than leadership. One after another ill-prepared candidates postured, shouted ideological purity, and attempted to tap into the emotions that the candidacy of Donald Trump revealed. All failed. Now the question, barely more than two weeks from the nominating convention, is whether any have the courage to act on their barely disguised animosity toward the presumptive nominee.
Trump overflows with audacity, lacks experience, and his personality and character preclude the possibility of his being a civil much less a temperate leader. I do, however, salute his timing, he arrived on the big stage at a fertile moment.
A significant minority of voters is “mad as hell” and the establishment is the culprit. Scholars and pundits have their well-rehearsed agents of destabilization and resulting anger–globalization, technology, and educational failure, lead the list. What most fail to cite are the politicians of both parties and their aligned interest groups who live in interconnected compartments characterized by ideological rigidity, shameless appeals for money, and glaring conflicts of interest.
Trump recognized, at the most elemental level, this dissonance and struck. His real fans didn’t care that he was wildly careless with rhetoric as they were sick of scripted wannabes. And, the one candidate that refused to join the “cage matches” failed to understand that the anger voters felt required more than soothing words. John Kasich, Ohio’s governor, was that candidate.
It has been approximately six months since the balloting began. But it has been the weeks since the balloting ended in California that have been the most revealing and why a counter-revolution is justified.
It was often said that Trump, if victory seemed possible, would begin to act more presidential. On June 7th he became the presumptive nominee and nothing in his demeanor has changed. Trump is Trump; those who hope he will duck into a phone booth and come out as Superman are delusional. So when the delegates vote they will be far better informed about the presumptive nominee than when the balloting began in Iowa or even ended in California.
Trump’s rhetoric continues with taunts one would expect from a school yard bully and he promises to tear up international treaties as if his inauguration would anesthetize the other two branches of government and terminate international commitments. In short, he has demonstrated none of the leadership traits that a head of state or commander and chief must have.
I have no idea whether this revealing conduct will make any difference to delegates who are at least nominally Trump delegates but have discretion to vote for another. Reality often fails to bend to hope and it is probable this will be one more time.
I also doubt there is a candidate who will put himself forward given the long odds against success. John Kasich is in the best position to do so. He has delegates and the convention is in his home state. Plus, he did not enter the cage match with Trump and is prepared for the ultimate job. Does he have the courage to seek it?
If Kasich or another candidate allows his name to be placed into nomination delegates will be forced to make a decision as to what kind of Party will serve the nation. This is after all the ultimate purpose of a political party. Delegates are the heartbeat of the political party and, more than voters who were drawn to Trump’s invective, have a longer range responsibility.
A friend recently noted that the problem with the populist or nativist is they don’t have a second act. London’s former mayor, Boris Johnson, the outspoken proponent of Britain leaving the European Union (EU), declined to run for Prime Minister when it was his for the asking. He had the skill to raise hell but understood he didn’t have the personal assets to lead Britain out of the EU. Trump has no such power of self-awareness; this failure is probably his most damning and enduring attribute.
I realize that most who have either an elected or appointed title in the Republican Party have chosen to yield to the process. Their script is formulaic and, with the exception of a few, resigned. This seemingly obligatory act of falling in behind the presumptive nominee would be understandable if Trump in recent weeks had shown any recognition of the demands of the job he is seeking. He has not. What he has shown is that he is unfit to be President.
The developing convention narrative is a drama made for TV. Absent leaders will be characterized, there will be the critics on the sidelines and there will be demonstrations filled with anger and perhaps violence. I hope for the sake of the Republic that a counter-narrative of hope and courage might also begin to emerge. But then from time to time I allow a dream to slip through.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.