(Peggy Noonan) – I had a conversation this week with a longtime acquaintance who supports Donald Trump. She’s in her 60s, resides in north Georgia near the Tennessee line, lives on Social Security.
She voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and was in fact the first person who alerted me to the breadth of his support.
In 2012 she voted Republican, disappointed in Mr. Obama not from the left or the right but the center: He couldn’t make anything work or get anything done.
So, why Trump?
“The whole country will be in better shape. And ISIS won’t like it that he’s in charge. He’s very wealthy and can turn around the economy. He’ll get things moving. The Donald will kick a—.”
She knows other supporters locally and among friends of her son, an Iraq vet.
“They’re completely disgusted and just furious, and he’s igniting their passion. He’s telling them ‘I will make this country great again,’ and they believe him.”
Mr. Trump is dismissed as exciting, but “we have to get excited to get up out of the chair to vote.”
Does he strike her as a serious man, a patriot? Yes.
“All he does is talk about how great this country is and how greater he can make it, how he wants to get good trade deals and take care of veterans. . . . He doesn’t need this job, he’s already got everything, it’s a pay cut. He doesn’t need the stature. I think he wants the job because he wants to do it.”
Does he have common sense? Yes, she says, he is concerned about what everyone is concerned about, except politicians.
“A lot of deals have to be made and he knows the art of the deal. The biggest problem is all the illegal immigrants.”
Is it OK with you that the next president could be a reality star who plays the part of himself, who acts out indignation and fires people on TV?
“It doesn’t bother me and it doesn’t bother the American people. And if you asked the people down South here, they don’t care either. They just want somebody in who’s plain and simple who can get the job done.”
Otherwise, she worries, “we’re gonna be Greece in another four, five years.”
Does it bother her that Mr. Trump has never held elective office? She paused half a second.
“It bothers me a little bit. But I think we need a very tough businessman with great business acumen. We can restore the highways and tunnels and airports, he’ll rebuild them. He’ll build a wall with Mexico. If he was a reality TV show guy that’s OK. Get it done.”
Afterward, a longtime GOP operative underlined her comments on infrastructure, but from a different angle:
“Trump intuits that the Republican base loves this country and yearns for an American restoration. The GOP once was a party of industry—bricks and steel—and Trump, the builder, connects with that narrative.”
Some Trump anomalies that have to do with the tropes people use to categorize others:
He was born to wealth and went to Wharton, yet gives off a working-class vibe his supporters admire. He’s like Broderick Crawford in “Born Yesterday”: He comes across as self-made. In spite of his wealth he never made himself smooth, polite. He’s like someone you know. This is part of his power.
His father, a buyer and builder of real estate, was wired into New York’s Democratic machine and its grubby deal making. Donald knew the machine and its players and went on to give political donations based on power, not party. Yet his supporters experience him as outside the system, unsullied by it. He’s a practical man who did what practical men have to do.
He never served in the military yet connects with grunts.
He has lived a life of the most rarefied material splendor—gold gilt, penthouse suites—and made the high life part of his brand. Yet he doesn’t come across as snooty or fancy—he’s a regular guy. A glitzy Manhattan billionaire is doing well with Evangelicals. That’s a first.
His rise is not due to his supporters’ anger at government. It is a gesture of contempt for government, for the men and women in Congress, the White House, the agencies.
It is precisely because people have lost their awe for the presidency that they imagine Mr. Trump as a viable president.
American political establishment, take note: In the past 20 years you have turned America into a nation a third of whose people would make Donald Trump their president. Look on your wonders and despair.
Mr. Trump’s supporters like that he doesn’t in the least fear the press, doesn’t get the dart-eyed, anxious look candidates get. He treats reporters with courtesy until he feels they’re out of line, at which point he calls them stupid.
They think he’ll do that with Putin. His insult of John McCain didn’t hurt him, and not because his supporters have any animus for Mr. McCain. They just saw it as more proof Mr. Trump will take the bark off anyone.
They’re not nihilists, they’re patriots, and don’t experience themselves as off on a toot but pragmatic in a way the establishment is not.
The country is in crisis, we can’t keep doing more of the same. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” We have to do something different. He’s different. If it doesn’t work we’ll fire him.
Trump’s power is not name ID. He didn’t make his name in this cycle or the last, he’s been around 35 years. He’s made an impression.
His ideological incoherence will not hurt him. His core supporters don’t prize him for his intellectual consistency. He has called himself pro-choice but so are some of his supporters, and no one sees him as a ponderer of great moral issues.
In the past he has described himself as “quite liberal” on health care. That won’t hurt either.
An untold story right now is that everyone was “right” about health care.
The Republicans were right that ObamaCare would not and will never work. Democrats—though they haven’t noticed because they’re so busy clinging to and defending ObamaCare—were right that America would support national health care, but not as they devised it.
We’ll get out of ObamaCare by expanding Medicare. Most of America, after the trauma of the past five years, won’t mind.
The GOP is waiting for Mr. Trump to do himself in—he’s a self-puncturing balloon. True, but he’s a balloon held aloft by a lot of people; they won’t let it fall so easy.
The first GOP debate looms, next Thursday in Cleveland. If Mr. Trump were on the stage with the second tier, who have nothing to lose, one or two would go at him. But he’ll be with the first tier, who will treat him gingerly.
A guess: He will come out with friendly dignity, shake hands, wait quietly for a question, attempt to demonstrate a statesmanlike bearing to anxious and opposed Republican viewers. But he won’t be able to sustain it. And his supporters won’t really want him to. They’ll want him to be The Donald.
Bombast will commence.
This column was originally published in the Wall Street Journal on July 30, 2015.