Commentary Magazine


Topic: Donald Trump

Trump, Malkin, and Dumbed Down Discourse

Sometimes you come across something that is both unusually shallow and yet (unintentionally) serves a useful public service. In this case, I have in mind the Twitter war between Michelle Malkin and Donald Trump. (You can follow it here courtesy of Mediaite.com.)

It’s perfect in its own way: witless, rude, angry, and content-free. He’s a “coward”; she’s a “dummy.” There’s no large issue being engaged and nothing clever in their exchange, making it worse than parody. And they don’t seem to know when to stop.

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Sometimes you come across something that is both unusually shallow and yet (unintentionally) serves a useful public service. In this case, I have in mind the Twitter war between Michelle Malkin and Donald Trump. (You can follow it here courtesy of Mediaite.com.)

It’s perfect in its own way: witless, rude, angry, and content-free. He’s a “coward”; she’s a “dummy.” There’s no large issue being engaged and nothing clever in their exchange, making it worse than parody. And they don’t seem to know when to stop.

All of which means everyone who uses Twitter on a regular basis should use this as a case study in what can happen to public discourse in the new media age. It’s a zeitgeist-capturing moment, and a cautionary tale of how foolish people can appear in 140 characters or less.

 

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The CPAC Clown Act

Just to get this straight, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has not invited Bob McDonnell or Chris Christie–two popular and accomplished governors–to their annual gathering. It seems they are viewed as insufficiently pure when it comes to holding high the torch of conservatism. But CPAC did announce that Donald Trump—real estate mogul, television reality show producer, and America’s most prominent birther—has received a slot to speak.

“Donald Trump is an American patriot and success story with a massive following among small government conservatives,” American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas said in a press release. (The ACU is the host of CPAC). “I look forward to welcoming him back to the CPAC stage next week. Mr. Trump’s previous CPAC appearance was hugely popular among our attendees and we expect it will be even more popular this year.”

I don’t doubt that Mr. Trump will be popular with the crowd, since clown acts often are. Just for the record, though: Trump has advocated a single-payer health care system (which even ObamaCare doesn’t give us), called for massive tax increases, favored abortion rights, and revealed himself to be hyper-protectionist. Trump has also donated more money to Democrats than Republicans in recent years and was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2008, when the Democratic Party was dominated by liberals. On top of that, Mr. Trump is vulgar, shallow, narcissistic, buffoonish, and has a fondness for conspiracy theories.

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Just to get this straight, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has not invited Bob McDonnell or Chris Christie–two popular and accomplished governors–to their annual gathering. It seems they are viewed as insufficiently pure when it comes to holding high the torch of conservatism. But CPAC did announce that Donald Trump—real estate mogul, television reality show producer, and America’s most prominent birther—has received a slot to speak.

“Donald Trump is an American patriot and success story with a massive following among small government conservatives,” American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas said in a press release. (The ACU is the host of CPAC). “I look forward to welcoming him back to the CPAC stage next week. Mr. Trump’s previous CPAC appearance was hugely popular among our attendees and we expect it will be even more popular this year.”

I don’t doubt that Mr. Trump will be popular with the crowd, since clown acts often are. Just for the record, though: Trump has advocated a single-payer health care system (which even ObamaCare doesn’t give us), called for massive tax increases, favored abortion rights, and revealed himself to be hyper-protectionist. Trump has also donated more money to Democrats than Republicans in recent years and was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2008, when the Democratic Party was dominated by liberals. On top of that, Mr. Trump is vulgar, shallow, narcissistic, buffoonish, and has a fondness for conspiracy theories.

Apparently this combination of traits is enough to warrant an invitation to the Conservative Political Action Conference.

This is obviously a stunt, meant to generate attention to the CPAC event. We all get that. The problem is that in the process, conservatism itself will be harmed, since is will confirm pre-existing caricatures and stereotypes about conservatives. 

For those who actually care about conservatism and who take seriously its intellectual and moral tradition, what CPAC is doing is unfortunate and destructive, and I hope someone at the conference says so. (A Sister Souljah moment, anyone?)

Mr. Trump will garner much attention, the left and the press will have a field day, and the public will watch all of this unfold and simply shake their head at the childishness and unseriousness of it all.

Well done, CPAC. Well done.

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Trump’s October Surprise is … Nothing

If you bet Donald Trump’s “October Surprise revelation” would be “nothing,” then congratulations. After days of coy hints and fanfare, Trump revealed that he has no news to share, but promised to donate $5 million to Obama’s favorite charity if the president releases his college records:

Donald Trump said on Wednesday that if President Obama releases his college records and application and his passport application, the businessman will give a $5 million check to a charity of Obama’s choosing. 

Trump tweeted earlier Wednesday morning that “all predictions” regarding the bombshell he’s promised to drop about President Barack Obama are “totally incorrect.” 

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If you bet Donald Trump’s “October Surprise revelation” would be “nothing,” then congratulations. After days of coy hints and fanfare, Trump revealed that he has no news to share, but promised to donate $5 million to Obama’s favorite charity if the president releases his college records:

Donald Trump said on Wednesday that if President Obama releases his college records and application and his passport application, the businessman will give a $5 million check to a charity of Obama’s choosing. 

Trump tweeted earlier Wednesday morning that “all predictions” regarding the bombshell he’s promised to drop about President Barack Obama are “totally incorrect.” 

I’m sure the timing of this circus act had absolutely nothing to do with Trump trying to divert attention from his recent professional problems. (Okay, it probably did). But this is actually one of the least damaging scenarios Romney could have hoped for. If Trump had released Obama’s divorce records or carried on about the birth certificate again, it would have been a huge embarrassment for Republicans. But it won’t be a surprise if the Obama campaign decides to latch onto Trump’s announcement anyway. They’ve spent the last two weeks talking about Romnesia and binders, and with this morning’s Benghazi bombshell they’re probably more eager than ever to change the subject.

And there are more distractions on the way. Gloria Allred is preparing her own “October Surprise” revelation this week, which sounds like it’s about old testimony Romney gave in a divorce trial for a close friend (via Radar):

Famed civil rights attorney Gloria Allred will be in a Boston area courtroom Wednesday in an attempt to unseal the sworn testimony given by Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, in a prior court case, RadarOnline.com is exclusively reporting.

“The Boston Globe is headed to court tomorrow morning for an emergency hearing in an attempt to obtain a court order to unseal the sworn testimony given by Mitt Romney in a prior court case and to lift a gag order so that the parties can speak about Romney. Gloria Allred will be in court representing one of the parties in the case,” a source close to the situation tells RadarOnline.com.

Any day talking about Trump and Allred is a day Obama’s not talking about Libya and the economy.

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The Media’s Complicity in the Birther Issue

Former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu does a fine job schooling CNN’s Soledad O’Brien over Donald Trump and the so-called birther issue. In saying this, I should point out that I would go further than the Romney campaign in repudiating Trump, who is a noxious figure in American politics. What Trump is doing in calling into question Obama’s citizenship is attempting to delegitimize the president, to argue that his presidency is unconstitutional and that he is alien. Crossing that line damages our political discourse and American politics more broadly.

There’s of course no rulebook one can consult when it comes to the matter of repudiating supporters. It’s a judgment call that has to be done on a case-by-case basis. In the case of Trump, who is a prominent Romney supporter, his attraction to conspiracy theories deserves a strong rebuke. When a political party gives a home to those who peddle in paranoia – a home to self-promotional cranks — it leads to an erosion of credibility.  Romney ought to say so.

With that said, CNN is complicit in this political circus as well. My point isn’t that the issue shouldn’t be covered at all; it is that, as Governor Sununu points out, the network is fixated on Trump and the birther issue. It’s drawn to it like a moth to a flame in a pitch-dark night. Here’s the problem. Bill Maher donated a million dollars to a super PAC supporting President Obama, and to my knowledge Obama hasn’t distanced himself from Maher’s crude attacks on women. Yet CNN seems remarkably indifferent to this story. I wonder why.

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Former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu does a fine job schooling CNN’s Soledad O’Brien over Donald Trump and the so-called birther issue. In saying this, I should point out that I would go further than the Romney campaign in repudiating Trump, who is a noxious figure in American politics. What Trump is doing in calling into question Obama’s citizenship is attempting to delegitimize the president, to argue that his presidency is unconstitutional and that he is alien. Crossing that line damages our political discourse and American politics more broadly.

There’s of course no rulebook one can consult when it comes to the matter of repudiating supporters. It’s a judgment call that has to be done on a case-by-case basis. In the case of Trump, who is a prominent Romney supporter, his attraction to conspiracy theories deserves a strong rebuke. When a political party gives a home to those who peddle in paranoia – a home to self-promotional cranks — it leads to an erosion of credibility.  Romney ought to say so.

With that said, CNN is complicit in this political circus as well. My point isn’t that the issue shouldn’t be covered at all; it is that, as Governor Sununu points out, the network is fixated on Trump and the birther issue. It’s drawn to it like a moth to a flame in a pitch-dark night. Here’s the problem. Bill Maher donated a million dollars to a super PAC supporting President Obama, and to my knowledge Obama hasn’t distanced himself from Maher’s crude attacks on women. Yet CNN seems remarkably indifferent to this story. I wonder why.

Beyond that, it’s worth pointing out the media’s tendency to bemoan what it promotes. There are dozens of significant and complicated topics that CNN could explore with care. But it has decided to hyper-focus on Donald Trump and the birther issue. That’s bad enough. But what makes it worse is when some in the media then saddle up on their high horses and lament that lack of seriousness in American politics. They pretend what they most want is a sophisticated and elevated conversation about the weightiest issues facing our nation and the world. They deride politicians for focusing on trivialities, even as they are the ones putting the spotlight on the trivialities and demanding politicians address them.

“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise,” C.S. Lewis wrote. “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” In our time, Professor Lewis could have added that the press gives a platform to stupid distractions championed by buffoonish figures — and then complains about the low state and childish nature of American politics.

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Obama’s Feeble Anti-Trump Ad

The Obama campaign wasted no time dropping a new ad that blasts Mitt Romney for attending a fundraiser with Donald Trump tonight. But if anything, the ad supports Jonathan’s earlier point. Teaming up with The Donald isn’t necessarily poisonous for Romney, and it doesn’t make for a very compelling political attack ad (via Mediaite):

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The Obama campaign wasted no time dropping a new ad that blasts Mitt Romney for attending a fundraiser with Donald Trump tonight. But if anything, the ad supports Jonathan’s earlier point. Teaming up with The Donald isn’t necessarily poisonous for Romney, and it doesn’t make for a very compelling political attack ad (via Mediaite):

Confused viewers may come away thinking they just watched a pro-McCain ad spliced with a reel of Trump’s most ridiculous fame-trolling moments. Whatever anti-Romney message there may be gets lost in the mix, so it’s understandable that the Romney campaign would think the $2 million from tonight’s fundraiser is more than worth this mild knuckle-rapping of a video.

The more unfortunate part is that Romney is lending credibility to Trump, and conservatives should be more alarmed about what that might mean for Trump’s political future than Romney’s. As Jonathan wrote earlier, independent voters likely see Trump as too ridiculous to be threatening, and his brand as an eccentric celebrity tycoon is so well-established that it probably blots out his occasional political babbling in most voters’ minds.

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Why Trump Doesn’t Hurt Romney

During the weekend, George Will noted on ABC’s “This Week” that Donald Trump is a “bloviating ignoramus.” Trump later replied on Twitter saying, “George Will may be the dumbest (and most overrated) political commentator of all time. If the Republicans listen to him, they will lose.” Suffice it to say that only one of them is right, and it isn’t Trump. But the point of this contest of intellect versus celebrity cash — whether Mitt Romney is making a huge mistake by allowing Trump to host a Las Vegas fundraiser for him today at which an estimated $2 million may be raised — isn’t so easily decided.

There’s no question that Romney does not enhance his prestige by associating with Trump. The real estate mogul turned television celebrity is a buffoon, and his much-publicized dabbling in birther theories is an embarrassment. The fact that he is still raising doubts about President Obama’s birthplace ought to make the Republican candidate unwilling to be seen anywhere near him. Romney’s willingness to accept Trump’s endorsement (while stating that he entertains no doubts about the president having been born in the United States) in the heat of the GOP primaries might have been excused, because at that time, he needed any help he could get. But with the nomination in hand and the general election campaign already begun in all but name, Will’s befuddlement about his judgment is understandable. However, there are two explanations which, while not providing much reassurance about Romney’s taste, should calm his supporters.

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During the weekend, George Will noted on ABC’s “This Week” that Donald Trump is a “bloviating ignoramus.” Trump later replied on Twitter saying, “George Will may be the dumbest (and most overrated) political commentator of all time. If the Republicans listen to him, they will lose.” Suffice it to say that only one of them is right, and it isn’t Trump. But the point of this contest of intellect versus celebrity cash — whether Mitt Romney is making a huge mistake by allowing Trump to host a Las Vegas fundraiser for him today at which an estimated $2 million may be raised — isn’t so easily decided.

There’s no question that Romney does not enhance his prestige by associating with Trump. The real estate mogul turned television celebrity is a buffoon, and his much-publicized dabbling in birther theories is an embarrassment. The fact that he is still raising doubts about President Obama’s birthplace ought to make the Republican candidate unwilling to be seen anywhere near him. Romney’s willingness to accept Trump’s endorsement (while stating that he entertains no doubts about the president having been born in the United States) in the heat of the GOP primaries might have been excused, because at that time, he needed any help he could get. But with the nomination in hand and the general election campaign already begun in all but name, Will’s befuddlement about his judgment is understandable. However, there are two explanations which, while not providing much reassurance about Romney’s taste, should calm his supporters.

The first and most obvious explanation is that Trump’s help as a fundraiser is not inconsiderable. Romney entered this race determined not to be outspent the way John McCain was four years ago, and it is clear that in his mind the money Trump is helping to raise for him is worth the media kerfuffle that is sure to follow anytime the famous developer opens his mouth. It might be argued that at this point Romney doesn’t need Trump. But perhaps Romney thinks the $2 million Trump is putting in his hand far outweighs the negative impact of the controversy.

But the other reason may show that Romney is not quite as out of touch as he may at times seem. Though Trump is an absurd figure whose public behavior has always been better fodder for the tabloids than the op-ed page, Romney may understand that he is not quite as toxic as most of us who think and write about politics believe. To the vast majority of the American public, Trump is first and foremost the star of a reality TV show, not a birther. Indeed, his overbearing persona and egotism was perceived as an act long before anyone ever saw “The Apprentice.” Though he may say ridiculous things and promote moronic causes like birther theories, its pretty clear most Americans see him as an inside joke that they have been made privy to, not a vicious hater. Put me down as one of those who find it disconcerting that so many people find him entertaining. And there’s no question that Trump will feed into the Obama campaign’s effort to demonize Republicans as a bunch of extremist fools. But Romney’s probably right to think he is not quite as radioactive to the voting public as my instincts say he is.

Just as it would be better if President Obama kept his Hollywood fan club at a further distance, it would be beneficial for the state of the nation’s political health if Romney stayed away from Trump. But I doubt that Romney will lose many votes because he accepts Trump’s embrace. These are mere sideshows that will only affect the outcome of the contest in the center ring.

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