1. Opinion

Nickens: Can Trump win with the politics of fear?


Richard Corcoran was for Jeb Bush for president. Then he was for Sen. Marco Rubio. Then he was for Sen. Ted Cruz.

Now is the incoming Florida House speaker from Pasco County ready to finally endorse Donald Trump as Trump prepares to accept the Republican nomination for president Thursday night?

Corcoran paused as he decided how to describe his position.

"Encouraged,'' he said this week at the Republican National Convention, adding a few minutes later, "He wasn't my first, second or third choice.''

That sums up a Republican Party still badly fractured by the rise of the New York billionaire with a habit of insulting women, Hispanics, the disabled, the media and the judiciary. There hasn't been a presidential nominee like Trump in our lifetimes. That he could get away with such slurs and survive, much less win the nomination, has cost many people some lunch bets (including me).

Despite overwhelming evidence that Trump is temperamentally unsuited to be president, many of his supporters are able to overlook the insults in their determination to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House.

"I wasn't a fan,'' said Joseph Semprevivo, the CEO of a cookie company in Sebastian and an alternate convention delegate who was for Cruz. "But there is no alternative.''

Darilyn Dolimpio, a retired nurse who lives in the Villages, voted for Marco Rubio in the Florida primary and had a hard time warming up to Trump. But the convention delegate is a convert.

"He appealed to the noisiest people who are fed up with Washington,'' she said. "The alternative is so much worse.''

Barbara Haselden of St. Petersburg, who originally was for Cruz and is attending the convention as a guest of a delegate, agrees.

"It took me about a minute,'' she said of her conversion to Trump after Tuesday's Florida delegation breakfast, adding that she discounts many of the presumptive nominee's outrageous statements. "I think a lot of that is theatrics.''

But the Trump bandwagon is still several big names shy of a load.

This convention is all Trump and family — and mostly second-tier politicians and third-tier actors. The last two Republican presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, aren't here. Neither are the last two Republican nominees, Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Marco Rubio are just too darn busy to show up. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan were speaking Tuesday night out of obligation rather than devotion to the man who has berated their leadership and upended their political party.

The greetings for Trump in Cleveland have been less than flattering.

"Republicans are on their way to nominate an appalling choice,'' headlined one column in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

And in a Washington Post op-ed that the Tampa Bay Times also published, Jeb Bush wrote he does "not believe Donald Trump reflects the principles or inclusive legacy of the Republican Party. And I sincerely hope he doesn't represent the future.''

The present is awfully grim from the picture being painted this week. Exploiting the terrorist attacks and the killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the goal is to scare voters into backing Trump. The only affirmative reason why, as Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson said, is "Donald Trump will have your back.''

Trump is apparently convinced he only needs the support of fearful white voters to win as he promises to re-create a fanciful vision of America before color television — or integration.

Convention speakers have derided Black Lives Matter and overtly suggested Clinton and the Obama administration are responsible for the assassination of police officers. In convention world, it isn't possible to both mourn the deaths of police and recognize black Americans still face discrimination and police harassment in too many communities.

And don't trust Hispanics, because they could be illegal immigrants who will kill you. Reject the efforts to accommodate the transgendered, who are a threat to your family values. And be wary of Muslims, who could blow you up.

"What has happened to common sense in this country?'' bemoaned failed presidential candidate Ben Carson to the Florida delegation Tuesday. "Common sense is being destroyed by political correctness.''

A better question is whether this bigotry and fearmongering will sell in a diverse state such as Florida, or destroy the Republican Party.

Like plenty of others, Corcoran sees a lot is riding on Trump's speech Thursday night. The incoming state House speaker hopes for a message that is principled, substantive and optimistic.

Don't hold your breath.