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Outsiders vs. Insiders: How an ‘elevator pitch’ explains why conservatives like Donald Trump

If you’re a Donald Trump backer, close your eyes and think back to the number of times skeptical inquisitors asked you to explain your support for Trump -- and, if you’re honest, how often did you fudge the answer in hopes of avoiding an argument?

Post State of the Union Address polls last week revealed President Trump’s approval rating ticking slightly upward, a good sign for the current occupant of the Oval Office and more broadly, the Republican Party. For Donald Trumpgoing on two years now many conservatives have felt almost defensive in elaborating on why they crossed a once unthinkable line and got behind the unapologetic billionaire whose hairdo is outshone only by his oversized personality.

As of last week Trump’s Real Clear Politics average approval rating was just shy of 42 percent, the highest it’s been since…well, ever? Though the overall numbers aren’t outstanding – or even good for that matter – it shows Americans are perhaps warming to the notion of a culturally polarizing celebrity businessman presiding over the most powerful government on the planet.

Success must have something to do with Trump’s burgeoning acceptance; the U.S. economic numbers (stock market drop last week notwithstanding) are strong, people are confident, the GOP is largely unified and opposition party Democrats have been besieged of late with truthful bad news about corruption in the highest reaches of the previous administration, which many claim is worse than Watergate.

It all has Trump smelling like a rose…or does it? #NeverTrumper Jonah Goldberg (at National Review) addressed the “cult” that is Donald Trump, writing, “[N]ever before in modern American history have we had a president so transparently demanding not just loyalty but praise from his subordinates and political allies. He considers criticism of his behavior a greater offense than voting against his agenda — and so do his most ardent supporters. This creates a powerful cultural incentive to define norms down, or just defenestrate them entirely…

“Yes, there is a cult of Trump. But that’s because we have a cult of the presidency in this country. It infects not just our understanding of the office, but of the person holding it. When Obama acted like a king — by his own definition — liberals cheered, because their loyalty was to the man, not the office. It’s getting worse with Trump, but this dynamic has been getting worse for decades. And I suspect it won’t improve much when he’s gone.”

Goldberg’s article contains additional points but these two are the most salient. The first is a standard accusation levied against Trump from the beginning of his political career – namely, if you refuse to bow to Trump’s enormous ego then you’re outta DC faster than a Bryce Harper homerun on a sultry summer day at Nationals Park.

The second argument addresses the all-encompassing office of the presidency in our 21st century world and contains more truth. Media attacks against Republican presidents have been especially savage in recent decades with reporters shedding whatever cloak of objectively they once sported in favor of substituting opinion for fact and also to defend the DC swamp with a vigor characteristic of the largest and most ferocious of establishment creatures.

I don’t think Goldberg’s point two is necessarily true of Trump though. As he and other conservative #NeverTrumpers frequently demonstrate, Trump still has a healthy contingent of critics on the right; those who regularly read so-called “conservative” publications and blogs therefore receive perspective from many who aren’t swallowed up in the “cult” of Trump.

The same is true of Republicans in Congress where many party members aren’t the least bit hesitant to nitpick and chastise their own president. The most recognizable names are Senators McCain, Flake, Corker and Sasse, but there are several on the House side as well. To his credit Speaker Paul Ryan appears to “get it” these days and says he won’t advance any legislation that Trump doesn’t support. Good, the “team” is finally all on the same playbook page.

As far as Goldberg’s first point (that Trump is a dictator-like figure who demands a loyalty oath from everyone who enters his personal sphere), it’s simply not true. Trump freely criticizes certain individuals but doesn’t often purge them; I’d even bet if Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer knocked on the White House door this afternoon armed with a bill enacting all four pillars of Trump’s immigration plan that he’d invite them in for a diet coke, summons the press and compliment the Democrats profusely on their newfound wisdom.

Trump’s adherents act in a similar fashion. Considering at one time most of us supported other candidates in the GOP primaries we’ve had to answer the “why do you like Trump now?” question many, many times. And it’s taken awhile to state truthfully that we like Trump for more than just his policy positions these days – his “style” has rubbed off on us as well.

I favored Senator Ted Cruz believing the Texan was the only true conservative in the 2016 field who could articulate the limited government message in a manner that would win the election. Fellow Ted Cruz supporter Roger Kimball wrote about his own conversion experience (to Trump) at The Spectator (UK), “It is, as Ronald Reagan said at a kindred moment of optimism, morning in America. In speeches, Trump has affirmed America’s commitment to battle freedom’s enemies and pursue economic growth.

“In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, he frequently struck a conciliatory note. He extended his hand to Democrats as well as Republicans to solve the nation’s problems —from immigration reform to rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. The word ‘love’, especially love of country, occurred often. But so did words denoting resolve and determination. The ‘beauty of America’s soul’ he counterpoised with the ‘steel in America’s spine’. Trump’s campaign slogan was ‘Make America Great Again’. On Tuesday he acknowledged that ‘it is the people who are making America great again’. Not the bureaucrats.

“You may not like President Trump’s taste in ties or steak, his tweets or his curious rhetoric. But fair-minded observers should find a lot to like in the results of his pragmatic, non-ideological approach to the nation’s — and the world’s — security and prosperity.”

Well put. Trump is about as far from a typical American president as we could get yet his first year in office was hardly a disaster and in many respects was quite invigorating. The dusty and stale stiffness surrounding the office has been removed but the dignity hasn’t. Trump shares a number of leadership characteristics in common with Ronald Reagan but there’s still a distinct difference – Trump doesn’t tout the concept of limited government like Reagan did yet the end results are pretty much the same.

To the chagrin of many conservatives Trump doesn’t bludgeon government at the bully pulpit; he’s clearly of the populist problem-solver persuasion but it’s acceptable as long as the agenda he pushes is effective in accomplishing the same goals. The fact Trump doesn’t try to be just like Ronald Reagan is also refreshing to his supporters.

At this point it might be helpful for conservatives to develop our own “elevator pitch” to promote Trump. (An elevator pitch is a brief, persuasive speech that you use to spark interest in what your organization does. You can also use them to create interest in a project, idea, or product – or in yourself. A good elevator pitch should last no longer than a short elevator ride of 20 to 30 seconds, hence the name.)

No doubt the steady minds at the Republican National Committee and Trump’s various PAC operations are at work composing their own “elevator pitches” to use for television ads. It’s not always easy to explain why Donald Trump is the right man at the right time to Make America Great Again in a few short sentences.

Nevertheless, here’s my attempt: “On the day Donald Trump was inaugurated he promised to put the American people first and to never let us down. Since then President Trump has traveled the world spreading a message of hope and optimism while never apologizing for the greatness of our country. At home he’s cut taxes, eliminated harmful regulations and unleashed the power of the United States economy to create jobs and offer a brighter future to all Americans. Trump is a man whose word is as strong as the seal of his office. Campaign promises now mean something. That’s why we should support President Trump’s efforts to Make America Great Again.”

Our pitch is certainly different than what we’d say about Trump’s predecessor, a president who went out of his way to pit people against each other and couldn’t apologize enough (to foreign leaders) for America’s past. No wonder the “world” loved Obama so much – he made it sound like our Constitution was significantly less than exceptional. Not so Donald Trump.

Because Trump is no longer considered a political pariah there are signs the party plans to use him in this year’s senate races in hopes of increasing the GOP’s majority in the world’s greatest deliberative body. Caitlin Huey-Burns reported at Real Clear Politics, “Unlike the House map, the Republicans' path to success in the upper chamber runs through 10 states Trump won in 2016 -- five of them by double-digit margins. But beyond those favorable fundamentals, the GOP is looking to the president to lead something of a mass-marketing campaign against well-known Democratic incumbents.

“Party operatives see the president's penchant for coining catchy -- and pejorative – nicknames, along with his made-for-television campaign rallies, as particularly helpful through the long primary process, helping to define the opposition while Republicans pick their nominees.

“’The messaging power and the branding power Trump has is different from any elected official,’ said one Republican familiar with Senate races this year. ‘It's a very valuable asset he has, and that he alone has been able to hone.’”

The primary reason Trump is so good at marketing is his message is sound and it sells itself. For too long Americans suffered under government leaders that talked a good game about creating favorable economic conditions but didn’t do anything except sprinkle money to favored constituencies (like green energy) and stir up cultural trouble.

Donald Trump doesn’t care about the GOP winning half as much as he wants to solve political stalemates. If the immigration debate didn’t reveal his true nature, nothing will.

Conservatives are happy they no longer have to separate Trump from his policies. Trump has grown into his role as chief executive, a process that’s taken time but is finally bearing fruit. Trump supporters can help him sell his agenda, too – better get that elevator pitch prepared.

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