Laying out his foreign policy.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Trump's Missing Support

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Where is the Republican pushback to Hillary Clinton’s vicious attack on Donald Trump’s foreign-policy qualifications? It's virtually absent, as several commentators noticed.

On Thursday, Clinton called Trump's foreign policy nothing but "bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies." Since then, the silence (except from Trump himself, of course) has been startling. When a party’s presidential nominee is attacked, the response is usually rapid, coordinated and sustained. Each party has recognized experts on any issue that it can deploy quickly to assure everyone that its nominee is sound. The party might even have a few people with bipartisan credentials who are willing to say that they’ve met with the candidate and that the attacks are off base.

Didn’t happen this time.

For one thing, Trump barely has a campaign so far. There’s not much beyond his rallies, interviews and Twitter barrage.  He doesn't seem to have a policy shop.

The reality-TV star was able to win the Republican nomination mainly by dominating the media. He didn't need an army of operatives spinning his message. And he appears to be counting on the same strategy to win in the general election.

But there's another facet to the lack of a united party response to Clinton's speech. It's a consequence of the grudging, minimal support he's been getting from high-profile Republicans. Some people have argued that an endorsement is an endorsement, and what’s really important is that Republicans have rallied to Trump with only a few exceptions. But this way of looking at it might be misleading.

The lukewarm "I’ll vote for the nominee” statement is not the kind of support a party's presidential nominee normally gets. Many high-profile Republicans are even planning to avoid the party’s national convention in Cleveland. 

Does it matter that they aren't rallying around him when he's attacked? It’s hard to predict. Political scientists normally tend to believe that the differences between a stronger campaign and a weaker one aren’t worth much in presidential general elections -- maybe adding up to a percentage point or two. But that assumes the two campaigns are relatively competent, with one just a bit better than the other.

We know Trump seems to be doing fine so far among Republican voters, consolidating his support among them at a rate comparable to what recent nominees mustered. Beyond that, all we can do is note that he is unlike other presidential nominees in U.S. history in at least two ways: He has won the party's nomination despite having practically no support and plenty of hostility from party actors, and he has not put together a conventional campaign organization. We can guess at the consequences of his singularity based only on how presidential elections usually work. Without solid precedents, however, we should be cautious. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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