Columns » Max Brantley

Trump: The Obama of 2016?

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Conner Eldridge, the Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman, launched an assault on Boozman Monday morning rich with irony and opportunity.

In short, he wants to hang Donald Trump on John Boozman, just as every Republican candidate from U.S. Senate to Big Rock constable has hung Barack Obama on Democratic opponents for eight years now.

Boozman isn't black. He doesn't have a Kenyan father. He lacks an exploitable middle name. But he also lacks a high public profile. He also has been dodging an explanation for how he can both repeal Obamacare and support Republican Gov. Hutchinson's Arkansas Works program that relies on Obamacare billions to insure working poor and also prop up the state budget.

And then there's Trump. Asked if he'd support the Republican nominee — increasingly likely to be Donald Trump — Boozman told the Associated Press Managing Editors convention last weekend: "...., I will support our nominee. Anybody is going to be better than Hillary or Bernie."

That means even Donald Trump. Eldridge jumped into the opening with an ad made for Facebook distribution that compiles some of the worst things Donald Trump has said about women in a boorish career unrivaled on the U.S. political stage by a serious national candidate. Eldridge called it "lurid and harassing" language. The video speaks for itself, with Trump cracks about boobs and women on their knees. It also includes audio of Boozman's implicit endorsement of Trump.

A senator should condemn such language, Eldridge said.

"Instead," Eldridge continued, "Senator Boozman is an enabler of Donald Trump's reprehensible conduct. For John Boozman to unequivocally state that he would support Donald Trump for President speaks volumes about Senator Boozman's willingness to put political parties and partisan politics ahead of common decency toward women." 

"As a U.S. Senator, John Boozman is rarely seen in Arkansas. And now his judgment and humanity have gone missing, too. One cannot look at this collection of statements by Donald Trump and not be appalled. But it would appear Senator Boozman is the exception to the rule."

If the November election does match Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton, there will be a gender gap. Women will favor Clinton and not only on account of Trump's sexism. But there's still the question of the male gender gap. In Southern climes, Trump likely will enjoy a male gap — in part for talk of women supplicating themselves to men. There are even some women in the Bible Belt who endorse that kind of talk.

Regional differences aside, running against Trump is easier for Eldridge than running against a mushy candidate whose name is unfamiliar to many voters. Boozman is hard to defend on his record, but he's also hard to attack. There's just not much there there.

Trump is another matter. He will revel in being at the center of every race on the ballot. Other Republicans might not feel so confident about the association with him.

If gender differences don't help Clinton against Trump, his unrelenting coarseness will. She's not a candidate viewed sympathetically by many, but Trump tirades could inspire a backlash. The negative of partisan association with Trump could prove a useful tool for many other Democratic candidates, particularly outside the South.

Instead of mailboxes stuffed with black men in surgical scrubs to illustrate the evils of the Democratic presidential candidate, we might just get a glossy card with a photo of an orange-haired reality show actor spouting misogyny.

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