Anyone who doesn't understand why Donald Trump is so far ahead in polls of Republican primary voters, or why he is running ahead of, or neck and neck with, Joe Biden in national polls, might consider taking the time to watch Trump's appearance last night in Clinton Township, Michigan.
I watched it this morning after staying up last night to watch the Republican presidential debate, which Trump skipped. The contrast is noteworthy. Trump is more confident, takes himself less seriously, has a better sense of humor, has a better command of the issues, and relates more warmly to a television audience than any of the other Republican candidates. Just in terms of sheer entertainment value, Trump is more fun to watch. He's a better politician.
Trump made brief mention of the other Republicans, describing them as "job candidates" for cabinet posts or the vice presidency in a second Trump administration. "Has anyone seen a VP in the group? I don't think so," Trump said. He briefly criticized "Ron Desanctimonious" for having "wanted to destroy Social Security" and "also put a heavy hit on Medicare."
Trump mainly positioned himself, though, in contrast to President Biden, or, as Trump calls him, "crooked Joe." He told Michigan autoworkers, "He's selling you out to China. He's selling you out to the environmental extremists in the radical left."
"Joe Biden is the most corrupt president and the most incompetent president we ever had," Trump said. "Look at the money he got from China."
"The only time Joe Biden has gotten his hands dirty is when he's taking cash from foreign countries, which is quite often, actually," Trump said.
Trump said Biden "is surrendering our auto industry to China," just like he surrendered the borders to the Mexican cartels and he surrendered Afghanistan to the Taliban.
Trump portrayed himself as a voice of "common sense" against "lunatics" in Washington and a country that has "gone insane." For example, "under a Trump administration, gasoline engines will be allowed, and sex changes for children will be banned."
What was concerning about Trump's language is the way it echoes rhetoric that's been used by antisemites on both the left and right. "Crooked Joe backed every bloodsucking globalist attack on US autoworkers," Trump said. The "bloodsucking" language is vivid, but it's dangerous stuff.
Trump talked about "a global financial class" that had "taken control of this country for their own enrichment...stealing your wealth and stealing your labor while shipping off our best and brightest to die in expensive, exotic foreign wars in places you never even heard of."
"The Wall Street predators, the Chinese cheaters, and the corrupt politicians have hurt you," Trump said, promising to "expel the globalists from our government."
One can shrug and look the other way at this stuff and observe that while Trump campaigns against the "global financial class" and "Wall Street predators," the whole economy did pretty well with Steve Mnuchin at Treasury and Jared Kushner and Larry Kudlow in the White House. Trump himself made his fortune in part with a global licensing empire, in part by investing in real estate with financing from Deutsche Bank.
If you close your eyes, though, Trump can sound a little too close to Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders for comfort. A "global financial class" that is "stealing your labor" is straight out of Karl Marx. Maybe Trump should run with Cornel West. If any of the Republicans running against Trump ever do get face to face with him, pushing back against Trump on these themes might be constructive. If Trump gets another four years in office—a prospect that is seeming increasingly possible, maybe even likely—or even if he doesn't, governing and or even living safely in a country with a population that believes their problems are the fault of "Wall Street predators" stealing their labor could be complicated. Trump may be betting he can handle it after he gets elected, but it's not without real risk.