... think back to that misty time, two years gone, when one of Trump’s current rivals -- Chris Christie, that’s the one -- was seen as the presumptive Republican front-runner. What was the basis of Christie’s appeal? Simply this: He was a jerk, but he was your jerk. He was rude -- but to people who deserved it. He was an S.O.B. -- the S.O.B. the country needed.Douthat goes on to explain how you apply this approach to Trump:
Then think about why the “Bridgegate” scandal was devastating to his image.
... it devastated Christie because it flipped his brand. Instead of the jerk who looks out for the average guy, he became the jerk whose allies had stuck it to commuters. Instead of the tough guy fighting for you, he became the tough guy whose goons would mire their constituents in traffic for a pointless little feud.
Now apply that model to the Inevitable Nominee....
To attack him effectively, you have to go after the things that people like about him. You have to flip his brand.
Tell people ... about all his cratered companies. Then find people who suffered from those fiascos -- workers laid off following his bankruptcies, homeowners who bought through Trump Mortgage, people who ponied up for sham degrees from Trump University....But here's the problem: Most of that is out there. It's been out there since Trump rose to the top of the polls. His voters don't care. His voters don't care about anything he said or did before he seemed to become "their SOB."
Find the people hurt by Trump’s attempts to exploit eminent domain: The widow whose boarding house he wanted to demolish to make room for a limo parking lot, the small businessmen whose livelihoods he wanted to redevelop out of existence.
That's because Douthat is mistaken about what brought Christie down in the eyes of national Republican voters. It wasn't that he had come to be regarded as an SOB for the wrong side -- that may have been what Jersey voters thought, but that wasn't his problem with Republicans nationwide. Christie's problem with Republican voters across the country was that he had stopped seeming like an SOB at all.
First he embraced President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Then, after Bridgegate, he was apologetic (or at least he apologized for what he was shocked, shocked, to learn his staffers had done). When you saw him on TV, he wasn't yelling at a union teacher -- instead, his political survival was being discussed by Rachel Maddow, or Joe 'n' Mika. He'd been brought low. He was no longer the guy who put his enemies on the defensive.
Then he compounded the problem by spending a year as the head of the Republican Governors Association. No longer was he the video bullyboy you saw on Fox News every couple of weeks. He was too busy roaming the country doing favors for influential Republicans, in the hope that they'd help him in the presidential race.
Republican voters may not know about the ordinary Americans who've been victimized by Donald Trump, but they've seen him attack people Megyn Kelly and Ted Cruz -- people they like. It hasn't bothered them. They've seen him attack John McCain on the one aspect of McCain's career they still respect, his military service. It hasn't upset them. In New Hampshire, Jeb Bush is running ads in which the father of a child with cerebral palsy expresses disgust at Trump's attack on a disabled reporter.
Trump voters don't care.
Why? Because attack like this reaffirm the impression that Trump is an SOB. As long as he seems to be primarily an SOB on the voters' side, they don't care if he's an SOB toward anyone else.