Scene One: It is a day or so after Ronald Reagan won-re-election with a 49-state landslide and Walter Mondale mused to the press about Reagan’s acting ability as a factor in the election.
Scene Two: Coming off the CNN Reagan Library debate, where, like its Fox predecessor, the audience soared into the 20-something millions, Donald Trump paid a visit to Stephen Colbert’s new show. And what happened? Here’s the headline from Deadline Hollywood:
Stephen Colbert Gets Big Donald Trump Ratings Bump
The story begins:
Donald Trump’s ratings Midas touch worked again, this time for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. With the firebrand Republican presidential candidate as guest last night, Late Show drew a 3.7 household (HH) rating in the overnight markets, the highest since September 8 premiere (4.9) and up +61% from last Tuesday.
What do Scene One with Reagan and Scene Two with Trump have in common? Both men were and are seen by the American people as fighters. Doers. Not only politically incorrect but willing to stand up and fight — not talk.
While a 49-state landslide and a bump in ratings for Stephen Colbert are not the same thing, at their core they are very much the same phenomenon. Contrary to Walter Mondale, it was what Ronald Reagan was doing that resonated with his audience — not simply his acting ability. And contrary to the wishful thinking of the GOP Establishment, it is what Donald Trump is doing that resonates with his audience, not just his undoubted skills as a showman and television star. And to see him do it, Americans are eagerly tuning in, whether it is to see Trump fight in a debate or Trump fight with Colbert or Trump fight Fox News.
The other day, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, once the front-runner, bowed out of the race. He had not just fallen in the polls, he had plummeted to asterisk status. In his exit statement Walker lamented the supposed lack of a Reaganesque “optimistic view of America” and added:
To refocus the debate on these types of issues will require leadership. I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same so that the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current front-runner. This is fundamentally important to the future of the party and, more importantly, to the future of our country.
Catch that line? The one about finding a candidate “who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current front-runner”?
With all due respect to Governor Walker, he seems to be waxing Mondalesque. Rummaging around in the intellectual closet to come up with some sort of explanation for defeat other than the obvious: the Republican base wants not just change, they want someone who fights. And Walker, for all of his steel with Wisconsin public employee unions, wasn’t seen as providing that fight. When Trump attacked Walker, no one seemed to think Walker was really fighting Trump as he had fought the unions. So thus Trumped, instead Walker fumbles around at his exit and decides he was losing because Donald Trump doesn’t have an “optimistic view of America.” As if the Trump slogan — “Make America Great Again” — is some sort of beckoning to the dark side of an Evil Empire. Whatever else the end of the Walker candidacy signals, it appears he was more of an Establishment guy than a bridge from Outsiders to the Establishment. And an Establishment guy who simply couldn’t or wouldn’t fight.
One of the oldest rules of television and movies is “show, don’t tell.” If you want a female character to express anger to a man, you don’t write some long speech for her to speak. You have her smack him across the face — showing anger, not telling about it. What is it that Republicans say they want in a candidate? Answer: they want a fighter. Over in Commentary this past “Summer of Trump,” Peter Wehner, he decidedly no Trump fan, took note of why Trump was doing so well. Trump’s fans, Pete wrote correctly, “believe he’s fearless, a fighter.”
Exactly. And to get back to that business of show-don’t-tell, what was Donald Trump doing just yesterday? He was fighting. Fighting with Fox. And before that? With Jorge Ramos. With Univision. With Megyn Kelly. With CNN. With Rosie O’Donnell. Meanwhile there was Scott Walker busy talking. He was talking… talking… talking. Here’s a sample Walker quote from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel a while back:
“We’ll talk about a number of things, from health care to national security, in the next couple weeks. We’ll roll out a couple of those before the next debate,: he said Thursday. “And then, in the weeks following that, on tax policy and other issues out there.”
No offense to Governor Walker but….Yawn.
Why was Ronald Reagan so popular with the American people? Because, old actor that he was, he knew about show-don’t tell. When the air traffic controllers went on strike in August of 1981, Washington talked. From Capitol Hill to the pundit class they talked about the issues involved, they talked about what Reagan couldn’t do. They talked, talked, talked. Reagan issued a warning to the strikers: Go back to work or I will fire you by a time certain. They didn’t believe him so he walked out into the heat of an August day in the Rose Garden when the deadline was up, his Secretary of Transportation at his side — and fired them. He didn’t talk — he was showing. He was showing that he could and would fight. As history later recorded, among those sitting up and taking concerned notice was the leadership of the Soviet Union. And they would, as history shows, have reason to be concerned.
What Donald Trump is about every day of his life is fighting — action — doing. You don’t build a Trump Tower or the vast empire that is the Trump Organization by talking about it. You do. You show. You fight.
Now comes this latest fight with Fox. And ironically, as this fight takes place out comes a Fox post-debate poll — and who leads?
Has the GOP Establishment — the people who have been dubbed the “surrender caucus” by disdaining grass-roots Republicans — figured this out yet? They’re talking about it.