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Donald Trump: Insults vs. leadership

The worst of Donald Trump, the celebrity-billionaire-turned-presidential-candidate, was on full display this past weekend during rambling rants on immigration, media elites, GOP presidential rivals and whatever else popped into his head.

He doubled down (or trebled down?) on his previous comments that Mexico “sends” killers and rapists across the border. Among other things, he promised to fine Mexico $100,000 for each person crossing illegally into the United States, an idea as ludicrous as it is insulting.

It is tempting to dismiss Trump as this election cycle’s Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain, early flame-throwers whose incendiary rhetoric didn’t withstand serious scrutiny. Trump is a carnival barker who conflates shouted insults with leadership, and points to his wealth as his credibility scorecard whenever he’s challenged. Mr. Trump, bombastic rhetoric is not a policy and it is divisive.

While he claims to speak for a “silent majority” of Americans who are disenchanted with the country’s direction, Trump does it with a scolding demagogic cynicism that inflames passions. This is a real threat to the field of GOP candidates and the country he claims to love.

For the moment, he’s sucking all the oxygen out of the room without offering a solution to any issue. That is not the way the GOP wins back the White House. Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans, didn’t bother to attend Trump’s rally. Flake called Trump’s remarks “intolerant” and “inaccurate,” and said Trump would hurt Republicans. Even Rupert Murdoch has challenged him on his immigration comments.

We get it. There is short-term political gold in rallying against “media elites,” whose criticism he wears as a badge of honor, or celebrating his “martyrdom” when others push back from Trump’s name calling. Trump may be building his brand, but his antics aren’t good for a party that needs to redefine itself.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Trump are in a virtual dead heat at the top of the Republican presidential hopefuls, well ahead of the rest. That has given Trump latitude to define the discussion, and probably will get him a place on stage when the GOP debates begin next month. Donald Trump is not going to be president or win the Republican nomination. However, he could convert his rhetoric into an independent run that siphons votes from the eventual GOP nominee.

Trump has tapped into an anti-establishment sentiment in the most crass ways possible, throwing raw meat to crowds. But that’s not how national elections are won or how this country should be run.

Trump has the bully pulpit, but for now revels in being just the bully.

— The Dallas Morning News

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