I will be the first to admit that I am delighted that Trump has thrown his big hair and floppy shoes into the Republican Presidential ring. Aside from the shoes and the hair I am particularly pleased that we will be hearing uncontrolled and uncensored words coming from his mouth. He will, no doubt, add great entertainment value to the Republican debates and the campaign in general. In recent years he has presented himself as undisciplined and unpredictable. Additionally, unlike most of us, he feels no need to base his statements and assertions on fact. If he says it, it must be true. After all, modesty aside, he has proven himself to be beyond reproach just by virtue of his wealth. It is clear that he is absolutely convinced that he has the attributes, experience and intelligence, unmatched by anyone else, that make him the only viable choice to lead our country. While I am not surprised that this egomaniac perceives himself in this way, I am concerned that others might come to agree.
Like many of you, I look forward to Trump’s brash and unapologetic accusations of naiveté, ignorance and just plain stupidity focused on his rivals. Yet I do feel the need to pull back and regain some perspective. He is surely unpredictable and undisciplined, as I noted above, but he is also not beholden to anyone for financial support. This combination makes him particularly dangerous. He can legitimately claim to be a Washington outsider, while at the same time show himself to be completely immune to pressure from any special interest. His wealth, as did Ross Perot’s in 1992, allows him to present himself as a pure and independent candidate. At a time when Americans are increasingly fed up with Washington and its inability to fulfill its obligations to govern this country, Trump may be more attractive to many than we would like to think.
There is no doubt that his statements are aimed at the right-wing base of the GOP. The problem is that the GOP has moved so far to the right that Trump represents the attitudes and fears of a significant portion of that base. He feeds those fears with his remarks about immigration and fed them with his off the wall campaign regarding Obama’s birth certificate and his legitimacy as both an American and a President. He speaks to them regarding the economy and America’s role in the world. His success in business and his worldwide notoriety provide him with legitimacy in these areas in the eyes of the very frightened and very ill-informed GOP base. Fox, we must remember, is the primary source of news and information for this group. Trump couldn’t ask for a more “perfect storm”.
Because he is not dependent upon anyone for financial support, he is free to say whatever he wants as he stands on the debate stage beside his fellow candidates. Combine this with a complete lack of concern with facts, and he has an incredible advantage over all of them. After all, he can simply target rivals with assertions and accusations at will, whether they are fact or fiction. As we all know, once you are placed in a position of trying to deny an assertion, you own it. Trump can take control of the debate stage by simply throwing bombs in all directions and watching as they all try to defend. Debates are about sound-bites, and Trump has become a master of this contemporary excuse for news. A sound-bite doesn’t have to be fact based, it just has to be titillating.
There is no doubt that the entry of Donald Trump into the GOP primary season will make for great entertainment. However, while enjoying the entertainment, we cannot lose site of the fact that he represents a significant portion of that base. Strange things can happen in a Republican Party that is hungry for a White House victory and turned off to its establishment.