My phone kept going off Wednesday around 7 p.m. Texts, emails, tweets.
“Are you watching Trump?”
“Huge crowds…slashing Jeb.”
“Kennebunkport freaking out.”
Whatever your view on Donald Trump, he has changed the 2016 GOP presidential race from top to bottom. On stage in Derry, New Hampshire, before a crowd of more than 2,000, he was genuinely having fun. Interacting with the crowd, without notes, taking no prisoners.
On the previous GOP frontrunner: “Have I gotten under Jeb Bush’s skin?” On border enforcement: “Someday they’ll call it ‘The Trump Wall.’” On whether he’ll eventually drop out: “I’m not going anywhere. I’m doing this to make America great again.”
Trump had the throngs smiling, laughing, nodding, cheering. Imagine that.
By contrast, on a stage 15 miles away in Merrimack, New Hampshire, Jeb Bush didn’t seem to be having any fun at all. Maybe when he looked out on his crowd of 150 people, he had already heard about the size of Trump’s.
Bush received respectful applause, though not resounding, when he revisited the now-familiar points of his resumé as governor of Florida. But his slouched shoulders and half-hearted delivery, his anemic attempts at attacking Trump, made him look like a defeated man.
This is as close to a seismic shift in American politics as I’ve ever seen — yes, I’ll say it — since Ronald Reagan took the country by storm in the campaign of 1980.
Bush is a smart man. He knows his roughly $120 million in the bank can buy him negative ads, but it can’t buy him love. Are voters lining up to see him defend Common Core and his path to legalization? We know the answer.
This is as close to a seismic shift in American politics as I’ve ever seen — yes, I’ll say it — since Ronald Reagan took the country by storm in the campaign of 1980. Anyone who still describes this as a lark, or Trump as merely a showman, is either incompetent as a political analyst or someone who simply refuses to see the writing on the wall.
Americans are tired of the two-party collusion. They are tired of being called racist or xenophobic when they demand that immigration laws be enforced. They’re tired of electing politicians who prefer not to hear them.
The GOP establishment can’t contain this.
They are hoping something happens — Jeb’s soon-to-drop negative ads, a catastrophic Trump slip-up, something to stop this frontrunner. But the old rules may not apply this time. When Jon Meacham asked Trump what biographies informed his political philosophy, Trump didn’t really answer the question beyond saying he likes Lincoln. Do voters care about those questions today? I’m sure Jeb has read the complete works of Robert Caro, but he’s also losing to Trump in a new Quinnipiac Poll in his home state of Florida.
It’s Trump’s celebrity.
It’s his brand-building skills.
It’s the fact that he never apologizes, doesn’t cower.
It’s his no-nonsense politically incorrect approach.
It’s the fact that he’s rich, so he isn’t beholden to donors.
“I don’t even know what to say,” MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski admitted after watching Trump’s free-wheeling, mesmerizing New Hampshire appearance.
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But, in fact, there is a lot to say here.
“Trump is accessible,” liberal columnist Mike Barnicle wrote in the Daily Beast. “He will answer any question posed to him and his replies are offered without fear of controversy.”
“Trump looks like he’s having a good time … a happy warrior,” Bloomberg’s John Heilmann noted. By contrast, he used words such as “joyless” and “slogging” when describing Bush’s stage presence.
The former Florida governor appears to plead with the audience to like him.
Indeed, the former Florida governor appears to plead with the audience to like him, as when he refers to himself in the third person here: “Let’s support someone who you don’t have to guess where he stands because he’s consistent, because he’s been governor and he consistently has the views that he has. And over time, I think people are going to want someone sitting behind the big desk that they know their compass points north.” The crowd didn’t react.
Jeb is a “low energy person,” Trump joked.
My friend and celebrated biographer Craig Shirley remarked that what they said about Reagan and Gerald Ford could now be said of Trump and Jeb Bush: “Trump could get a standing ovation in a graveyard. Bush puts you to sleep in the third paragraph.”
Some of the same people who a month ago were dismissing Trump are now mentioning his name in the same breath as JFK and Reagan.
One of my radio listeners summed it up pretty well: “Trump makes politics fun. Jeb makes it boring. Trump wants to win. And he just might.”