The Arizona Republic

This election isn’t only about Trump

- Robert Robb Columnist Arizona Republic USA TODAY NETWORK

Donald Trump wants American politics to be all about him, all the time.

The rest of us shouldn’t be so quick to accede to his desire.

Now, Trump does have an undeniably oversized role in American politics, for several reasons.

He is president, and the president always commands significan­tly greater attention, and exercises greater influence, than any other political figure.

Then there is the way Trump plays politics. He routinely says outlandish things that are impossible to ignore.

And finally there is the reaction Trump engenders.

He outrages and energizes liberal activists. And that is understand­able. They are steeped in

a politicall­y correct way of seeing the world and behaving in politics. Trump brazenly and contemptuo­usly violates every norm of political correctnes­s. Trump is anti-matter to their politics.

Trump, in part because of that, animates and energizes his core base — which overlaps, but is not fully congruent with, the traditiona­l Republican base. Trump looks down on those who looks down on them. And they love it.

Trump, while not deep on policy, has a sort of genius about appealing and activating this base in a way that renders convention­al polling somewhat anachronis­tic. My guess is that a large segment of Trump base voters refuses to talk to pollsters as a matter of principle.

Trump’s formulatio­n about the midterm election and the prospect of Democrats taking over one or both chambers of Congress – don’t give power to an angry mob – will probably increase turnout for Republican­s by at least 1 or 2 percentage points.

Now, Trump violates norms other than just politicall­y correct ones. He is a one-trick pony. The only political argument he is capable of wielding is a personal attack. He can’t even engage constructi­vely with his own staff and cabinet. He is chronicall­y uncivil and an unsettling­ly erratic leader.

Trump is a riveting and deeply polarizing figure. But this election isn’t all about him. And treating it as such leads to misanalysi­s, misunderst­anding and miscalcula­tion.

For example, there is a common practice of calculatin­g what percentage of the time a Republican senator or congressio­nal representa­tive voted the way Trump wanted. If the percentage is high, then the charge is made that the Republican office-holder is a rubber stamp for Trump and should be held accountabl­e for all of Trump’s sins.

Trump, however, has governed in a highly conservati­ve way: tax cuts, deregulati­on, conservati­ve judges.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that conservati­ve Republican­s in Congress voted in favor of these things. That’s not being a rubber stamp for Trump. In fact, most Republican­s members of Congress were in favor of these things well before Trump was.

Trickier territory is how Republican office-holders respond to Trump’s behavior, particular­ly his outlandish, erratic and offensive statements.

Most Republican­s have condemned or distanced themselves from some statements. But, for the most part, they hold their tongues.

This is in part from personal political calculatio­n. Republican voters want someone who supports Trump. And politician­s don’t win election by alienating their base.

It is also from a policy political calculatio­n. Trump is president. Conservati­ve reforms have to go through him. In fact, as a practical matter, they have to be initiated by him.

Trump is tribal. Getting things done requires working with him. And tut-tutting him all the time wouldn’t be conducive to that.

Trump motivates liberals to get out to vote in larger than usual numbers.

There are also voters who don’t necessaril­y want liberal governance, but are offended by Trump. They are inclined to vote Democrat to hold Trump in check.

This is making the election all about Trump. And this tactical vote may not be fully thought out.

This election, a vote for Democrats may very well be a vote to put the country through the trauma of an impeachmen­t proceeding. Is that really better than trying to vote Trump out of office in two years, or hope that he doesn’t run again?

This election should be about what elections should always be about: choosing the office-holder whom voters think will support the policies that best serve the country and the state.

Trump is naturally a factor. But he shouldn’t be the only factor.

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 ?? CAROLYN KASTER/AP ?? President Donald Trump arrives as the sun sets to speak at a campaign rally Thursday in Missoula, Mont.
CAROLYN KASTER/AP President Donald Trump arrives as the sun sets to speak at a campaign rally Thursday in Missoula, Mont.

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