Donald Trump will end the war in Ukraine in 24 hours. That alone is reason to support his candidacy.
Trump’s plan for doing so is, admittedly, light on details. In an interview with Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo, Trump claimed his “very good” relationships with Zelensky and Putin would put him in a position for a swift negotiation. “I would tell Zelensky ‘no more, you gotta make a deal’,” the former president said, “I would tell Putin ‘if you don’t make a deal, we’re gonna give ‘em a lot’.”
The Washington Post called it “a remarkably simplistic—even nonsensical—plan to end the conflict,” and labeled the boast that he would end the war within 24 hours “basically his new ‘build the wall and make Mexico pay for it’.”
It’s an apt comparison—but perhaps not in the way the Post meant it.
For the past eight years, the standard response of Trump’s critics to his bombastic rhetoric has been incredulity, frantic fact-checking, and ridicule. A 2018 analysis showing that Trump communicates at around a fourth-grade level frequently comes up in response to his more grandiose and straightforward claims. But while the elites of both parties may snicker at those who want to win “big,” Trump’s rhetoric is rewriting the political map.
Whether one is convinced by his plan to end the war (or to build the wall or stop the steal, or any other Trumpian turn of phrase) is beside the point. Electoral politics is no longer about policy proposals. The issues we now debate in the political arena don’t really belong there; they are pre-political, stemming from fundamental disagreements about the nature of the country, of the good, of the man himself.
As a result, the GOP-primary and unaffiliated voters that make up “the base” want their candidate to paint a clear vision for the country. They want a vision that stands in stark contrast to the onslaught of contempt for them and their way of life, and that is capable of stirring aspirations of what once was—and could be again.
Trump’s clear goals, not plans, stand in stark contrast to focus-group tested soundbites that dominate the rest of the political conversation. On substance and rhetoric, Trump consistently challenges the failed vision of America upheld by the bipartisan ruling class. And that is what people want to hear.
“China is ripping us off.” “Total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S.” “Greatest jobs president that God ever created.” “Very fine people on both sides.” The “China virus” and “Kung flu.” “Impeachment Hoax 1” and “Impeachment Hoax 2.”
At its best, there is a self-assuredness about Trump’s speech that evokes an America that can’t be bullied by the commissars of diversity, equity, and inclusion. His rhetoric baits the gatekeepers of our discourse to denounce it, and him. This is all to the good for the vast swaths of this country left behind by the March of Progress.
“End the war in 24 hours” is the latest Trumpian mantra in this vein. And it shows why Trump’s political rivals for 2024 continue to falter. Take, for example, the Ron DeSantis campaign’s response to Trump’s Ukraine boast.
The DeSantis campaign correctly pointed out that Trump’s plan could leave the door open to an even more hawkish, escalators Ukraine position than that of either the current administration or of most GOP rivals: “We’re gonna give ‘em a lot.” It is a valid concern for those who want a swift diplomatic settlement to the war: Could Trump inadvertently escalate the war by publicly announcing his hardball negotiating tactics?
But the criticism hasn’t, and won’t, land with voters. DeSantis has yet to settle on his own vision for the war in Ukraine. He may well have a coherent policy plan in mind for ending the war, but voters wouldn’t know it. The Florida governor’s messaging and rhetoric on the conflict has been all over the map, first calling it a “territorial dispute,” then walking that back and calling Putin a “war criminal.” Absent a coherent vision, even valid policy critiques won’t register.
Elizabeth Warren learned the hard way that “having a plan for that” doesn’t translate into electoral success. If he doesn’t change course, DeSantis may be well on his way to the same lesson. The comparisons are already there.
To his credit, the Florida governor held his own at the Blaze’s presidential confab with Tucker Carlson earlier this month. But the event still served as an example of the power of Trumpian rhetoric—even without the 45th president in attendance.
Among those in attendance, the clear winner of the summit was Tucker himself, in no small part due to the clear contrast between Tucker’s straightforward questioning and the candidates’ carefully couched focus-group-tested responses.
In his interview with South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, Carlson was not content to allow Scott to dodge hard questions about deporting illegal immigrants with vague platitudes. “Wait a second, the federal government knows where everyone is,” Tucker said, “We know anyone using a fake social security number. So why not just like to drop them off in Tijuana? Bye bye. A sincere question.”
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It is a question most politicians would write off as unfeasible and unserious. Most GOP voters seem to disagree. The audience roared.
Tucker and Trump’s propensity to cut through Beltway jargon and speak to a coherent and aspirational vision of this country is why the two are the most powerful figures in Republican politics. One was able to command almost every serious presidential candidate to run his rhetorical gauntlet. The other knew he didn’t need to.
The fact is, for better or for worse, Trump’s straightforward rhetoric is the key to his continued sway over the Republican Party. It may be light on the details, but doubling down on “End the war in 24 hours” will do more to bring pressure to bear for the cause of peace than any fifteen-point plan for diplomacy. It is up to those who share Trump’s vision for America to provide the policy pathways to achieve it—and to keep those who want to undermine that vision out of government.