Panelists at Texas Tribune Festival discuss the rise of Donald Trump

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Five panelists discussed the presidential race in Texas Tribune Festival’s Sunday morning keynote “2016 WTF?”.
Photo Credit: Emmanuel Briseño | Daily Texan Staff

Republican campaign strategists and political pundits gathered over the weekend at the Texas Tribune Festival to discuss the reckoning force with which Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump bulldozed over his political opponents in the past year.

Trump’s campaign methodology left some pundits questioning the routes taken leading up to the election, with Trump trailing closely behind the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

All panelists at the Sunday morning keynote “2016 WTF?” agreed they didn’t believe when the race started that Trump would become the nominee.

“Donald Trump is running up the score with noncollege whites in a way that we haven’t seen,” Steve Kornacki, political correspondent for MSNBC, said. “The flipside is he’s doing worse than a Republican nominee for president since the advent of modern polling with [college-educated] whites.”

According to Jay Newton-Small, political correspondent for TIME magazine, if Trump wants to win the election, his campaign will have to be geared more towards white women.

“The fight to me is all about women,” Newton-Small said. “Donald Trump is going to Detroit to talk to black voters, but he’s not really trying to win the black vote, he’s trying to reassure suburban white women that he is not racist because they don’t like the idea of voting for a racist.”

A question raised by Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith, who moderated the panel, was the credibility of critiques on Clinton’s performance on the campaign trail.

Newton-Small said Clinton had to show throughout the race she was tough but not too strong, otherwise the media would criticize her.

“There are a lot of limitation female candidates can have that are very different [from men],” Newton-Small said. “Bernie Sanders can yell for forty minutes and people are like, ‘Yeah, yell at me for forty more,’ and when Hillary Clinton gets up and the minute she raises her voice, people are like, ‘Oh my god, why is mom yelling at me.’ That is a double standard. We expect powerful executive women to be pragmatists but it’s very hard for them to show passion.”

“Trumping of the Republican Primary” focused on the events leading up to Trump’s nomination and the future of the party.

Jason Johnson, presidential campaign adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, kicked off the panel Saturday explaining Cruz’s Trump endorsement by crediting it to the original pledge all Republican candidates made at the beginning of the campaign.

“At the end of the day, [the pledge] was the thing that most informed the decision,” Johnson said. “Some folks were very saddened by the decision and some were very pleased … the one thing I can say is that opinions are very firm on both sides.”

The undercurrent of division in the Republican party between those in support of and against Trump made itself clear when Sara Isgur Flores, a presidential campaign strategist for former candidate Carly Fiorina, said Cruz’s endorsement placed conservatives in a horrible position.

Rob Johnson, a presidential campaign adviser for former candidate Rick Perry, responded by saying the future of the Supreme Court is a good enough reason to vote for Trump.

“We know as conservatives and as Republicans what kind of justices Hillary Clinton will appoint,” Rob Johnson said. “We don’t necessarily know what kind Donald Trump will appoint, however, he did give a list.” 

What none of the campaigns expected was for the Trump mantra to become such a phenomenon among their
candidates’ constituencies.

Jason Johnson said the anger from voters toward establishment Republicans stemmed from broken promises in Washington, whether they be failing to repeal President Barack Obama’s healthcare law or insufficiently addressing illegal immigration. 

Cruz was expected to capitalize on this sentiment, but Rob Johnson said voters’ frustration level caught everyone off guard.

“We underestimated the discontent and anger in America,” Rob Johnson said.