We’ve Been Trumped!
The tycoon with the aerodynamic hair has been dominating the news this past week, and that’s exactly what he wants. No matter that the punditocracy has generally blasted him for brazen misogyny. Or that conservative bigwig Erick Erickson banned him from appearing onstage with the other Republican presidential hopefuls. Or that his own campaign manager, Roger Stone, jumped ship (or was tossed overboard, depending on which account you read) after vainly pleading with The Donald to stifle the ugly rhetoric.
No, the Trump brand is flying high where it counts: among the sort of Americans who still aspire to gaudy, blow-’em-away success but tend to live vicariously through the exploits of the rich and famous. In other words, Trump is our first tabloid presidential candidate. His constituency is as vast as the audience for the Kardashians, and about as intellectually astute.
Trump’s macho swagger and assertiveness conjure up memories of the older, paunchier Frank Sinatra croaking that he could be “king of the hill, top of the heap, A-number one.” It’s a brash, gold-plated vision of America, high on money and testosterone and primed for combat.
The funny thing is that Trump is no ideologue. It’s virtually impossible to paint a coherent picture of his political beliefs. He’s conservative on immigration… he seems uncharitable toward women and minorities… he’s a militant capitalist… but he’s no evangelist for the Christian right, either.
You’d think a diehard moderate (like me, for example) might embrace a candidate who departs from the holy scriptures of our orthodox progressives and conservatives. Trump speaks his mind without fear, a refreshing trait in any would-be politician. He’s no fan of political correctness. He’s blunt and unscripted. You get the impression that he disdains focus groups, even though he could afford to serve caviar sandwiches and Dom Perignon.
All that is laudable. At last week’s televised GOP debate, Trump made the more conventional candidates look pale and wonkish by comparison. His more outrageous pronouncements elicited both cheers and boos — but nobody could deny that he stirred the blood. After eight years of a surprisingly bloodless Obama administration, America might respond to a president who struts, swears and shakes his fist.
But let’s get real for a minute. During the GOP debate, Fox News spitfire Megyn Kelly asked Trump point-blank when he decided to become a Republican. (After all, he had contributed to the campaigns of several Democrats in the past.) And here’s where my jaw dropped a few inches. Trump casually admitted to Kelly, the nation and almighty God that he was simply playing the game: buying the future favors of politicians — Republicans and Democrats alike — by enriching their campaign coffers. He confessed that he had done as much for most of the candidates sharing the stage with him that night.
I had to wonder how this blatant oligarch would reform our already broken system of government-by-lobby, in which the elected representatives of the people secretly cater to deep-pocketed elites. Trump seemed to be fine with the current arrangement. After all, his America is a land of winners and losers (mostly losers), and it’s only natural that the alpha dogs should control the government. At least Trump is so obscenely rich that no oligarch in America could conceivably influence his policies with a covert bribe.
Should we take Trump seriously as a candidate? Is he for real, or is he just a buffoon with money to burn? Some political cynics have suspected that Trump is nothing more than a Clinton “plant” — a tactical stooge whose candidacy would spawn chaos and discord among the Republicans.
We know that Trump pals around with the Clintons — and that the silver-haired ex-President chatted with Trump about his political ambitions. Could foxy old Bubba have played to Trump’s narcissism by encouraging him to run (and inadvertently clear the path for another Clinton presidency)?
The danger is that Trump could actually succeed. He’s already leading the other GOP candidates by an absurdly fat margin in the polls. His braggadocio seems to play well in Peoria. A blowhard and a bully? Sure, but so was Mussolini, and the masses adored him.
At the very least, Trump could be America’s answer to Putin: a defiant strongman who understands power instinctively, like a predator, and wields it with scant attention to international opinion. Trump is already the virtual embodiment of post-9/11 America as seen by our more jaded European allies: a cocky, shallow sociopath with a monstrous ego and a penchant for asserting dominance at any cost. In other words, he’s George W. Bush on steroids.
Of course, a President Trump would have to contend with our infernal constitutional system of checks and balances. He’s accustomed to being dictator of his own real estate fiefdom, but he’d have some major adjusting to do if he actually makes it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. No problem… Congress is so accustomed to legalized bribery, and Trump’s personal treasury is so spectacular, that — well, you get the picture.
Will Trump’s appeal fizzle as he continues to alienate one group after another? Can a billionaire continue to pose as a populist? Does he have “legs” — or will he flame out before the primaries? Will his hyperactive mouth be his salvation or his undoing?
Stay tuned… with Trump in the race, we should be in for a compulsively watchable campaign. Reality TV was never this entertaining. At the same time, beware: reality TV never had this much power to influence the future of our nation.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.