In a crowded primary field, debates are all about setting yourself apart from the pack. In the first presidential debate hosted by Fox News, Donald Trump certainly did that by being the only candidate not to rule out a third party run should he lose the Republican nomination.
This should be concerning for Republicans. Trump has the money to mount a serious third party campaign, the spoiler effects of which would be obvious in the general election. Everyone remembers what happened with Ross Perot in 1992. The Republican vote was split, and Bill Clinton was elected instead of George H.W. Bush winning a second term.
It should come as no surprise to students of history that the circumstances that allowed Ross Perot to gain such popularity are remarkably similar to what we're seeing today. Bush famously violated his "no new taxes" pledge, angering a base that was tired of being lied to. Ready to capitalize on that anger, was a straight-talking, political outsider billionaire. To many, he represented the American Dream and the antidote to all that was wrong with politics; someone who would tell the truth, even if it wasn't politically correct.
Trump exists as a major force in the Republican primary for exactly the same reasons. Americans are frustrated with a Republican Party that has let them down again and again. We were told that taking back the Senate from the Democrats would change things, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has balked at tackling big reforms, instead content with small ball issues like the Keystone XL Pipeline and repealing the medical device tax. I'm no fan of taxing medical devices, but when we control both houses of Congress, we should be trying to repeal all of Obamacare, not a tiny piece of it.
Americans are frustrated with Speaker of the House John Boehner, who is actively working against the newly — formed House Freedom Caucus, the few members of Congress who actually care about doing the things they were elected to do. Americans are frustrated that, after years of campaign promises and lofty rhetoric, nothing is getting done. Politics today is as disillusioning as it has ever been.
Enter Trump, a straight talking, political outsider billionaire who's not afraid of being politically incorrect. Is it any wonder so many find him an appealing contrast to the typical politician? But the problem with Trump is that though he sounds authentic, what he actually stands for remains largely unclear.
The man who is positioning himself as the conservative choice for president actually has a history of advocating for socialized medicine and higher taxes. He even supported Hillary Clinton in her Senate bid. I understand the urge to take on the establishment media — I've been doing it myself for years — but we shouldn't allow ourselves to be seduced by someone who has not demonstrated what he actually believes.
The sad thing is that Republicans created Trump, or at least his ability to compete in a major election. They created him by failing, again and again, to live up to the principles they campaigned on, and now, only they can stop him.
If Trump runs as a third party candidate, he will hand Hillary Clinton the presidency, and we will be stuck with four more years of more spending and more debt. By that time, it may be too late to save the country from fiscal disaster. The only way to fix the problem is to get serious about big, meaningful reforms. Now.
We are approaching another fight over the debt ceiling, a battle over an omnibus spending bill, and a budget process where we actually have a chance to repeal most of Obamacare. If Republicans in Congress are not willing to put up a fight on these issues, they can hardly blame voters for being seduced by Trump's siren song.
Republicans are at a crossroads: Either they will start to wake up and listen to what the American people actually want from them, or they will continue down the same lobbyist-driven, backroom-dealing, spend-and-spend path that has been threatening to lead the party into irrelevance for decades.
If they choose the latter, they will continue to provide a platform for people like Donald Trump, as well as for President Hillary Clinton.Adam Brandon is president and CEO of FreedomWorks. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.