Donald Trump is not running for president.
Oh, he acts like he is a candidate on a stage. And Trump has filed the requisite paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, as have hundreds of others. But he is not running a presidential campaign.
It might come as no surprise that the gaffe-a-minute reality television star has claimed that he has no use for pollsters. “I don’t want a pollster,” he told the New York Times. “Because if a pollster’s so good, why aren’t they running?” The logic is impeccable. But pollsters are not the only political professionals whose services Trump has eschewed. If the alleged presidential candidate had hired a consulting firm with a graphics department, he probably would not have promoted his candidacy by sending out an image with the American flag superimposed over the soldiers of the Nazi Waffen-SS that someone on Trump’s team apparently mistook for American troops. Say what you will about political consultants, at least they know the difference between U.S. soldiers and the German division responsible for their massacre at Malmedy. Perhaps that lapse explains Trump’s evident low regard for American servicemen and women who endure torture and deprivation in enemy custody.
Nor has Donald Trump or his team displayed much interest in the technical aspects of running for the president. Little things like developing an organization in the early primary states that is tasked with winning the requisite delegates to secure the party’s nod and transitioning into a grassroots general election support structure. “I met Mr. Trump for 30 seconds on May 9. Gave him my card. He hasn’t called me thus far,” South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore revealed. Moore’s frustration is shared by Iowa and New Hampshire’s GOP operatives who say they have had little contact with Trump or his organization. That does not, however, mean the reality TV star has ignored the early states entirely. Earlier this month, Trump hired as his Iowa campaign co-chair a former contestant on his canceled reality television program The Apprentice. The move generated quite a few headlines and, for the Trump campaign, that seems to be an end in itself.
Anyone with even a passing understanding of how political campaigns are waged and won knows that what they are witnessing is a spectacle. This is not a presidential candidacy; it’s a vehicle for self-promotion. That makes the unwavering support that Trump has received from prominent members of what constitutes the “entertainment wing” of the GOP, its popular radio talk show hosts and commentators, that much more egregious. Showmen and women themselves, they recognize one of their own when they see him.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board admirably drew fire from the right this week when it briefly scolded an unnamed cadre of “conservative media elites” who serve as Trump’s “apologists,” but those the Journal admonished do little in the way of apologizing for the target of their affections. “Abettors” is perhaps a more apt description of those who would willingly facilitate a grift. Some of the most accomplished, seasoned, and bright members of the conservative movement’s commentary class have inexplicably given succor to a figure who is flagrantly misrepresenting himself and misleading their audiences.
Mark Levin, a constitutional scholar and a deservedly successful radio host, bizarrely declined to challenge Trump in the same way that he has other Republican candidates who have joined him on his radio program. “You know, your biggest problem is going to be the Republican establishment,” Levin advised after noting how his candidacy has resonated with the public and lamenting how the Republican members of the legislative branch are too quick to seek compromise with the country’s executive. This is a far cry from the Mark Levin of 2011 who called Trump an “airhead” whose tenuous grasp on free market economics sounded “stupid” to him.
When Trump refused to express support for Representative Paul Ryan’s budget proposal that reformed entitlement spending — very much an “establishment” Republican goal from an “establishment” Republican officeholder — Levin savaged the real estate developer for spouting the same vacuous platitudes he spouts today. When Trump advised Ryan to “sit back and relax” on the issue of entitlements, Levin reprimanded him furiously. “Apparently all your supporters are going to give you a pass on every damn thing you’ve ever said or done,” Levin exclaimed. “But not me.” What changed? Trump certainly hasn’t.
One of Levin’s radio colleagues, the accomplished radio host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham, appears equally blinded by frustration with congressional Republicans. “Trump filled a vacuum existing in GOP,” she said in praise of his willingness to attack “Bushism” and congressional Republicans. “Prediction: Trump numbers will not change — could go up after McCain dust-up. Establishment approval will go down.”
That’s a bizarre prediction, considering the pollster in the field on Sunday after Trump’s insulting remarks about Senator John McCain’s service record noted that the candidate who drew nearly 30 percent support over the weekend was down in the single digits after those comments generated publicity.
“So Trump won’t commit to supporting GOP nominee if not chosen,” Ingraham said of Trump’s refusal to rule out a third-party bid for the White House. She asked if Senator Marco Rubio or former Governor Jeb Bush would support Trump if he secured the requisite delegates, but she must know that there is a rather substantial distinction between not supporting a party’s nominee and actively trying to handicap him or her.
Even the astute Rush Limbaugh has succumbed to the passions of the moment. “The American people haven’t seen something like this in a long time,” Limbaugh said in praise of Trump’s refusal to apologize for questioning McCain’s record as a North Vietnamese hostage. “They have not seen an embattled public figure stand up for himself, double down, and tell everybody to go to hell.”
“Trump can survive this,” Limbaugh averred. He’s right, but only as long as Trump can count on the help of his friends in the GOP’s entertainment wing.
All the while, Hillary Clinton is relishing the attention she isn’t getting. The New York Times reported that Clinton’s team is weighing how best to give the GOP what it wants and inexorably link Trump, a doctrinaire liberal and Democratic donor, to the Republican Party. Reporting on its own poll of Republican primary voters, ABC News described those of his supporters who are most incensed over the issue of illegal immigration in America “nativists.” The conservatives behind the microphone in this country know exactly what’s happening here. While the Republican Party brass should welcome the chance to repudiate a self-promoting pretender like Trump, the conservative movement’s most booming voices seem intent on rendering that effort impossible.
Making one’s way in the business of political entertainment is incredibly difficult. Those who are successful in that profession have achieved their position only after dogged perseverance, years of hard work, and repeated displays of inborn aptitude. No one gets to where these and other accomplished personalities are today unless they are possessed of great talent, prudence, and a wealth of knowledge on history and civics, which makes this whole affair all the more demoralizing. Those who continue to prop up this faltering carnival act based on the mistaken premise that it somehow advances conservatism are making a grave error. All that is being advanced are individual careers. The Americans who truly count on the conservative program to better their lives and right the course this country is on are those who will suffer the most if Trump is allowed to indelibly tarnish their movement.