Commentary Magazine


Topic: Donald Trump

The GOP’s Snake Oil Salesmen

Amid a truly devastating period for conservative culture warriors, the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat observed last week that those who consider themselves allies of the social conservative movement so often do it a disservice. “Politicians who stand with them on policy mislead them on politics,” he observed. The events that occurred following this remark proved Douthat prescient.  Read More

Amid a truly devastating period for conservative culture warriors, the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat observed last week that those who consider themselves allies of the social conservative movement so often do it a disservice. “Politicians who stand with them on policy mislead them on politics,” he observed. The events that occurred following this remark proved Douthat prescient. 

Prisoners as they are of the news cycle, Republicans in the political consulting class have taken to rending garments over the reality television star Donald Trump’s alleged entry into the presidential race (a complete financial disclosure must be filed in 10 days in order to participate in the first debate) and the negative impact he will have on the GOP brand. I have written that I believe they are overestimating the impact Trump will have on the electorate and his fellow candidates. But what these consultants fear most, and what they say freely and honestly, is that Trump will tap into a strain of ascendant populism within conservatism that will infect the party’s grassroots. They fear that a sizable minority of aggressive, xenophobic self-described Republicans will rise up and happily express their impolitic attitudes for the media’s cameras.

Trump’s supposed popularity within the GOP presidential field is wildly overstated. It is no great feat for a figure with near universal name recognition to secure the support of roughly 10 percent of barely tuned-in voters. That performance is only estimable relative to the rest of the crowded presidential field, and Trump’s star is likely to fade as the race’s frontrunners break away from the pack. Still, Republican Party officials are consumed with fear over what Trump represents, and the damage he can do in the interim between his announcement and the inevitable suspension of his campaign.

When conservatives are asked why they think Trump’s candidacy is resonating with the right, they most commonly reply, “He is saying things that people want to hear.” This says less about the electorate than it does about the candidate capturing so many disaffected imaginations. When voters are faced with unpleasant realities, there will always be a market for comforting fictions; just ask the Greeks. A legitimate problem for the GOP is, however, that too many believe that Trump is disseminating hard truths when the opposite is the case.

Republican voters love to hear Trump contend that a new Great Wall across the Mexican border, inexplicably paid for by the Mexican government, will permanently curtail illegal immigration. They love to hear the claim that America is getting a raw deal when it engages in exchanges with its second-largest trading partner, the People’s Republic of China. They love the notion that a more steely-eyed negotiator would pacify Russia without the commitment of substantial treasure and the requirement of sacrifice on the part of the West. Everyone loves a salesman when he’s pitching the deal of the century.

What’s more, those on the right who fairly resent illegal immigration and who oppose the incentives this administration has created for border crossers appreciate hearing Trump express the most acerbic condemnations of illegal immigrants. “If you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything, coming in illegally to the country, they’re mind-boggling,” Trump recently insisted. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Conservatives who instinctually nodded their heads along should have the intellectual consistency to resent the fact that the only person misleading them in this case was Trump.

“Foreign-born individuals exhibit remarkably low levels of involvement in crime across their life course,” observed University of Massachusetts Sociology Professor Bianca Bersani in a study published in Justice Quarterly. As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted, the Pew Research Center helped quantify Bersani’s work and discovered that native-born Americans are most likely to have committed one crime in the last 12 months followed closely by second generation Americans. “Since undocumented immigrants are more than a quarter of the immigrant population, it’s nearly impossible that the overall-immigrant crime rate could be so much lower if the undocumented-immigrant crime rate were significantly higher,” Bump observed.

It’s not unreasonable to expect a subset of bright, honest, demoralized conservatives to reject this data in favor of the bias-confirming fiction weaved by Trump; particularly because he has attracted at least one prominent enabler: Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

While the rest of the field of GOP presidential candidates was condemning Trump and the rhetoric he used to mislead his supporters, Cruz saluted him. This is not a surprising move for the former Texas attorney who is cursed with being acutely aware of his own considerable intellectual faculties. Too often, the junior Texas senator succumbs to the instinct to manipulate his supporters in a transparent manner that is, at times, too clever by half.

Take, for example, Cruz’s decision to stoke the flames of revanchism among aggrieved cultural conservatives in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. “Those who are not parties to the suit are not bound by it,” said the former Texas Solicitor General in an interview in which he advised states to, likely illegally, ignore the Court’s mandate which compels states to recognize gay unions in order to comport with the Fourteenth Amendment. Ted Cruz knows that course of action is ill advised, but he apparently finds this manner of misinformation useful in his quest to cast himself as a Washington outsider nobly confronting establishment Republicans who have sold out their enervated base.

Cruz’s contention that he would support a constitutional amendment that would subject Supreme Court justices to retention elections also exemplifies his apparent intention to deceive his way to the top of the GOP heap. In the modern era, calls for a constitutional amendment is simple buck-passing; the modern equivalent of a defeated army sending its remaining partisans into the hills to ignite a quixotic guerilla rebellion. If a GOP-dominated congress couldn’t pass a marriage amendment supported by a Republican president in 2004, it’s not happening today. Similarly, the fact that a Democrat-led Senate could barely secure the votes required to debate an amendment that would limit the First Amendment freedoms loathed by the likes of Bernie Sanders was a concession that their cause was an obscure one. For true believers, however, the amendment process remains a viable option, and those who oppose it simply lack the passion. Again, Cruz misled his supporters for temporary personal gain.

Even if such an amendment could pass, its effects on the constitutional order would be disastrous – a reality of which Cruz is likely aware. As the columnist George Will observed, Cruz’s retributive amendment is as “progressive” as anything Hillary Clinton has proposed. “[Teddy Roosevelt] embraced the core progressive belief that the ideal of limited government, and hence the reality of the separation of powers, are anachronisms,” he wrote. “Imagine campaigns conducted by justices. What would remain of the court’s prestige and hence its power to stand athwart rampant executives and overbearing congressional majorities?”

Cruz has calculated that, like Trump, the fleeting value gained by embracing these maximalist positions is worth the damage his reputation will endure. For some on the activist right, however, Cruz and Trump will suffer no consequences advancing a series of comforting fictions. There is no reward for honesty when that forthrightness dashes cherished hope. The conservative movement would, however, do well to ask itself whether it is best served by the charlatans in their midst who are more concerned with selling their product than preserving the integrity of their party or addressing the problems facing the republic.

June-2015-Promotion_animation

Read Less

When Conservatives Latch on to the Wrong Causes

Sometimes there are moments in which the differences within your own political and philosophical movements become particularly clear. That happened to me over the course of two days last week. Read More

Sometimes there are moments in which the differences within your own political and philosophical movements become particularly clear. That happened to me over the course of two days last week.

I was driving in my car and, as is my wont, skipping around to different radio stations, some carrying sports shows and others carrying conservative talk programs. On consecutive days, I tuned into The Mike Gallagher Show. Gallagher’s show is popular, rated #10 on the list of Talkers.com’s most important radio talk show hosts. I’ve been on his show several times over the years, and I’ve always had a cordial relationship with Gallagher, although sometimes we’ve had some sharp disagreements.

In any event, while tuning in to parts of his program over two days, Gallagher was speaking out in defense of Donald Trump, flying the Confederate flag, and parents who oppose vaccinations for their children. And I thought, “This branch of conservatism is one I don’t particularly identify with.”

Gallagher is, in my judgment, wrong on each of these issues. But it’s not just that I believe he’s wrong; it’s the passion he brought in defense of them that was striking to me. Why would he feel moved to give defense to the anti-vaccination movement when vaccinations are one of the greatest achievements of biomedical science and public health? (Gallagher tends to frame this as a parental rights issue, but also argues that “we don’t know” whether autism is caused by vaccinations, when in fact there’s no link based on any credible science.) Why, given the fact that the Confederate flag was the symbol that represented succession and slavery, would Gallagher criticize South Carolina Representative Mick Mulvaney for reversing his stance on flying the flag on state grounds? (Gallagher argued that the same logic that led to bringing down the Confederate flag could lead us to bring down the American flag.) And why defend Donald Trump, who is hardly a conservative, for his crude and misleading statements on illegal immigrants from Mexico? (Trump didn’t say that we should secure the southern border and there are bad people who sometimes come across it illegally; he said Mexico is sending us people who are criminals, drug deals and rapists — and some, “I assume,” are good people.)

I don’t want to overstate things. Gallagher and I come down on the same side on most public policy issues. We’re both critical of President Obama and liberalism. We both disagree with the most recent Supreme Court decisions on the Affordable Care Act and gay marriage. We both respect the Founders, the Constitution, and Ronald Reagan, in whose administration I worked.

Yet there I was, listening to Gallagher over the course of two days defending with some passion people and positions in ways I find quite problematic. And it did underscore for me how there are competing impulses and tropisms within conservatism today. This doesn’t make us enemies or unable to find common cause and co-exist in the same movement. There are already too many loud and agitated voices on the right urging excommunication for those who disagree with them.

But it’s clear, too, that there are real differences rooted in temperament and to some degree in philosophy; in how we view empirical evidence and science; and in how we understand conservatism, where it needs to go and who best represents it in our time. And I will add this: If conservatism is associated in the public mind with defending Donald Trump, the Confederate flag, and the anti-vaccination movement, it’s going to rapidly shrink in size and influence and intellectual seriousness.

June-2015-Promotion_animation

Read Less

Giving Trump the Pariah Treatment May Help Him

Donald Trump has been a vulgar, if entertaining presence in American popular culture for a generation. His decision to run for president, as opposed to flirting with the idea, this year is, as I wrote last month, a disaster for the Republican Party. Aside from the fact that the real estate mogul/reality show star is unsuitable and unqualified to be president, his celebrity and his willingness to say and do outrageous things has the potential to distract the press and the voters from his more serious competitors and turn what had shaped up as a campaign that would only strengthen the GOP into a circus that will damage it and force everyone in it to react to his rants rather than state their own positions. And that’s not even taking into account the remote possibility that his celebrity and name recognition make him, at least according to current polls, a genuine threat to win the nomination. But even as I join in the laments about the Trump candidacy and his clown car campaign, it’s hard not to sympathize with Donald Trump today. Though his remarks about illegal immigrants from Mexico were outrageous, the campaign to force his business partners, such as NBC or Macy’s to drop their associations with him are so self-righteous that it not only makes even those who are critical of him feel a twinge of sympathy. Even worse, the campaign may do him more good than harm.

Read More

Donald Trump has been a vulgar, if entertaining presence in American popular culture for a generation. His decision to run for president, as opposed to flirting with the idea, this year is, as I wrote last month, a disaster for the Republican Party. Aside from the fact that the real estate mogul/reality show star is unsuitable and unqualified to be president, his celebrity and his willingness to say and do outrageous things has the potential to distract the press and the voters from his more serious competitors and turn what had shaped up as a campaign that would only strengthen the GOP into a circus that will damage it and force everyone in it to react to his rants rather than state their own positions. And that’s not even taking into account the remote possibility that his celebrity and name recognition make him, at least according to current polls, a genuine threat to win the nomination. But even as I join in the laments about the Trump candidacy and his clown car campaign, it’s hard not to sympathize with Donald Trump today. Though his remarks about illegal immigrants from Mexico were outrageous, the campaign to force his business partners, such as NBC or Macy’s to drop their associations with him are so self-righteous that it not only makes even those who are critical of him feel a twinge of sympathy. Even worse, the campaign may do him more good than harm.

Let’s start with the fact that his comments at his campaign launch about illegal immigrants from Mexico were typically over the top and largely wrong. One can have concerns about illegal immigrants and even believe that they are disproportionately more likely to be criminals than those who come to this country without violating the law. But to characterize Mexicans as bringing drugs, crime and rapists into the country along, “with some good people” was an absurd and defamatory simplification of a complex problem. It is undoubtedly true that a lot of illegals are not model citizens. But most simply come here for work and to better their lives, the way the forebears of most Americans came here, albeit these have arrived in an era when it is not as easy for immigrants to come here legally as it was in the 19th or early 20th centuries. In his defense, he wasn’t saying all Mexicans were criminals since his point was that the worst elements in Mexican society, rather than its best, are crossing the border illegally. But much like anything that comes out of Trump’s mouth, his comments were more suited to a bar stool rant than a presidential campaign.

For this he deserved and got a great deal of criticism. But, as is typical of the way our pop culture works these days, mere outrage wasn’t enough. An effort to shun Trump and to force corporations that have enjoyed long and profitable associations with him to drop him became the preferred mode of response. And, as is also typical of the way a cowardly corporate culture reacts to anything that smacks of unsavory controversy — or at least a kerfuffle — that can get them labeled as prejudiced, it was immediately successful. First Univision dropped Trump’s Miss USA pageant from its schedule, and then its parent company NBC cut ties with the star of their successful “Apprentice” series. The latest to jump on the bandwagon is the Macy’s department store chain that will no longer sell a Trump clothing brand they’ve stocked for years.

Assuming that their contracts permit it, all of these companies are within their rights to drop anyone that may harm their business, a point that makes the decision of Univision, with its Hispanic audience, seem wise. Moreover, his new status as a candidate has to complicate relationships with companies that would prefer to stay out of the political maelstrom. But the rush to tar Trump with the pariah label seems as over-the-top as his comments as well as a bit belated. Trump has, after all, been saying outrageous things for a long time. For those who did business with him in the past to suddenly claim that they are shocked about his attitudes toward immigrants or anything else is hypocritical. Moreover, it ill behooves NBC, which currently employs Al Sharpton, a man who has incited deadly anti-Semitic riots and has been branded by the courts as not only a public liar but also a tax cheat, to declare that Trump doesn’t live up to their high standards of conduct.

But the real problem, especially for those who are wary of Trump’s impact on the GOP race, is that a lot of Americans look at the effort to drive him off the public stage and instinctively sympathize with him. For those who like to be served red meat about illegal immigration and who instinctively distrust the mainstream liberal media that is leading the charge against him, the fact that the left is trying to run Trump off the stage makes them want to embrace him. Even those not inclined to cheer anyone who runs afoul of political correctness, may find the effort to put him in the stocks is off-putting when it involves business partners who have long cherished the same qualities they now condemn in self-righteous tones.

In starting this firestorm, Trump may have been, as he usually is when money or fame is concerned, outthinking the competition. He remains the center of attention, and being the victim of a politically correct mob makes him a hero to some grassroots conservatives who ought to know better than to embrace a figure that is more charlatan than statesman. This gives the left even more incentive to concentrate their fire on him since they would certainly prefer Trump to be the face of the Republican Party rather than substantial figures such as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker or any of the other credible candidates. All of which has to trouble a GOP that was already rightly worried about the ill effects a Trump candidacy will have on its 2016 prospects. For the left, Trump isn’t so much a pariah as he is a gift that will keep on giving.

June-2015-Promotion_animation

Read Less

Don’t Fear Donald Trump on the Debate Stage

From almost the moment that reality television star and real estate mogul Donald Trump made his intention to run for the White House official by filing a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, establishmentarian Republicans have been gnashing teeth and rending garments. They fear that a Trump candidacy will be a circus, that it has the potential to sap support from the party’s (many) more electable candidates, and that it may damage the ultimate GOP nominee’s electoral prospects in November. But are those fears really well founded? It’s possible, in fact, that Trump’s candidacy might be a benefit to the more competent Republicans in the race. Read More

From almost the moment that reality television star and real estate mogul Donald Trump made his intention to run for the White House official by filing a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, establishmentarian Republicans have been gnashing teeth and rending garments. They fear that a Trump candidacy will be a circus, that it has the potential to sap support from the party’s (many) more electable candidates, and that it may damage the ultimate GOP nominee’s electoral prospects in November. But are those fears really well founded? It’s possible, in fact, that Trump’s candidacy might be a benefit to the more competent Republicans in the race.

Given that early polling is basically an exercise in gauging name recognition, it should come as no surprise that Trump’s level of voter support has spiked to the low double-digits both in national and early primary state polling. And while he might have the lowest ceiling of support of any of the prospective nominees, securing the backing 11 percent of the GOP electorate puts Trump on par with top-tier candidates like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul. What’s more, Trump’s polling stature almost certainly gives him access to the debate stage in August and possibly after that.

The prospect of Trump appearing on stage alongside the party’s groomed and capable 2016 candidates has horrified many observers. “The National Review called Trump a ‘ridiculous buffoon’ and ‘an ass of exceptionally intense asininity,’” Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur observed. “The conservative group Club For Growth said he “should not be taken seriously” and urged that he be excluded from the debates.”

Some have toyed with the idea of amending the debate rules to ensure that Trump and Trump alone is excluded from the process. Some of those, “like prohibiting candidates who gave money to Clinton’s past campaigns,” as National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar wrote, create criteria for participation in the debates that nakedly targets Trump individually. But the stakes are so high that such duplicitous rule bending seems justified.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza called the notion of giving Trump a platform like a sanctioned GOP presidential debate a “nightmare” for the party. “He will interrupt, bully and seek to dominate the debate in ways that will make it impossible to get a word in edge-wise,” Cillizza wrote. “And, if past is prologue, the sorts of things he does say when he gains control of the debate floor will be stuff that appeals heavily to the Republican base and turns off, well, almost everyone else.”

And all that is true but is that really a “nightmare” for the GOP? While seeing Donald Trump share equal stature with Republican governors and senators will be a lamentable sight, there could be an upside that few seem to have entertained.

First, Cillizza is absolutely correct: If Donald Trump’s Twitter presence is any guide, Trump will bark and bleat, submit childish barbs and withering personal slights aimed at his GOP competitors, and lurch impractically to the right on every issue. After all, the man is deeply unprincipled, and he need not fear any consequence for embracing unworkable policy positions only to abandon them later with a shrug; it’s his style. And it seems the majority of Republicans are aware of that. The same national Fox News poll of Republican primary voters that found 11 percent backing Trump (putting near the top of the field of candidates, just below Jeb Bush) also revealed that 64 percent do not trust The Apprentice star.

In 2012, the commentary class on the left and right observed that the GOP’s presidential primary process had put their party’s nominee at a disadvantage. “It’s the primaries that push their presidential nominees far to the right,” former Politico reporter Jonathan Martin wrote in 2013, putting his finger on the conventional wisdom. It’s a myth but nevertheless a persistent one that holds Mitt Romney, a moderate Massachusetts man at heart, was dragged to the right by a grueling primary process that ultimately rendered him unelectable in the general election. If there is a kernel of truth to that notion, Donald Trump will only benefit Republicans by serving as a caricature of a populist conservative who merits no response, much less self-contortion on the part of his rivals.

Let’s examine a few of The Donald’s most recent jabs:

“Governor Rick Scott of Florida did really poorly on television this morning,” Trump said of the Florida governor who was asked for his opinion on the real estate mogul’s presence in the race and refused to comment. “I hope he is O.K.”

“I hear that dopey political pundit, Lawrence O’Donnell, one of the dumber people on television, is about to lose his show,” Trump averred of the longtime MSNBC host. “[N]o ratings? Too bad.”

“The ratings for The View are really low,” he added. “Nicole Wallace and Molly Sims are a disaster. Get new cast or just put it to sleep. Dead T.V.”

And this is just in the last 24 hours.

Anything short of effusive ego-boosting praise for this man yields a tirade of puerile taunts. How do you respond to this? Why would you respond to this? If this is the personality that Trump brings to the debate stage, it would be near impossible for any of his GOP competitors to muster a cogent response if only because they are so removed from their days in primary school.

And as for Trump’s policy positions, insofar as he has any, they are equally vapid. On illegal immigration: “I’ll build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.” On trade relations with China: “The way you’re tough is they sell all of their products in this country, and if they don’t behave and act fairly we start taxing all their products coming into this country.” On Russian aggression: “They are all talk, no action.”

This isn’t policy; it’s deluded bluster. There is nothing here that merits a response. Trump may attract a few of the GOP’s populist voters with this kind of empty rhetoric, but his ceiling of support is low enough so that his fellow Republicans do not have to worry about losing much of their support to him. There is no getting to the right of Trump – he will always outbid you. The GOP field can safely allow Trump to stake out unprincipled, unrealistic policy positions in order to elicit applause lines and make a cogent case for their sober policy preferences to the remaining majority of persuadable and reasonable GOP primary voters.

“Trump presents a great opportunity for those who will seize it: The chance to become a better, tougher, calmer, readier candidate earlier in the cycle,” the GOP consultant Liz Mair posited. Maybe. Those who do confront him will do so in good humor; there is, after all, only one way to disarm a hothead, and a skilled debater knows it well. But most will be better served by ignoring him and allowing him to implode without assistance. And when he does, he will take the GOP’s self-defeating populist strain down with him.

June-2015-Promotion_animation

Read Less

Donald Trump Is a Stain on the Republican Party

The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson has an excellent column eviscerating Donald Trump, who earlier this week announced he was running for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Gerson’s column follows another insightful commentary, this one by our own Jonathan Tobin, who offers observations about what a Trump candidacy might mean for the Republican Party.

Read More

The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson has an excellent column eviscerating Donald Trump, who earlier this week announced he was running for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Gerson’s column follows another insightful commentary, this one by our own Jonathan Tobin, who offers observations about what a Trump candidacy might mean for the Republican Party.

I, too, worry Trump’s presence will damage the image of the Republican Party. I say that because Trump is a buffoon, a narcissist, and deeply unserious. Unfortunately his presence in the race – and especially on the debate stage, should he be invited to participate – will guarantee enormous attention. His idiocies have the potential to dominate the show, particularly since elements within the press will be eager to make him representative of the Republican Party. As Jonathan puts it, “The Todd Akin precedent here will apply in a way that it would not if Trump were merely a spectator to the presidential derby. If he’s in it, each one of his statements will be brandished by the left as a club to beat all conservatives, even if most want nothing to do with him.”

Which brings me to conservatives and Mr. Trump. In a piece published on Thursday, I argued

For some on the right – not all by any means, but some —substance, philosophy and governing achievements don’t matter all that much. What does matter to them is style – and the style they prefer is strident, angry, and apocalyptic.

This point helps explain the appeal Trump has to some on the right. After all, Trump is hardly a conservative on the issues. In the past he’s advocated a single-payer health care system (which even ObamaCare didn’t give us), called for massive tax increases, favored abortion rights, and revealed himself to be hyper-protectionist. Today he attacks those who want to reform Social Security and Medicare, the main threats to our fiscal future. He was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2008. As of 2011, he had given a majority of his $1.3 million political contributions to Democrats, including Harry Reid. If that wasn’t enough, Trump has a fondness for conspiracy theories, from linking autism to vaccinations to being America’s most prominent birther.

What, then, could possibly be the attraction of Trump to conservatives? For some, it seems, the attraction is found in the Trump style, which is precisely the concern. Mr. Trump’s announcement speech was rambling, vague, shallow, simplistic, insulting, ad hominem, and self-obsessed. He has no governing agenda and no governing philosophy; all he has is an attitude. And that attitude is crude and off-putting. Trump would be temperamentally and intellectually unqualified to run for the state legislature; running for president is ludicrous. But that’s where we are.

I’m not quite sure what the Republican Party and the conservative movement can do about Trump. If he polls well enough to be invited to participate in the debates, it’s hard to keep him out. Doing so might become a rallying point for him and his supporters. But here’s what I know they shouldn’t do, which is to be sympathetic towards him and his candidacy. Nor should they speak as if Trump has something to useful and constructive to offer. To say, as Fox’s Eric Bolling did, that Trump is “refreshing.” He isn’t.

Donald Trump is a stain on the Republican Party and conservatism, and leaders of the party shouldn’t be afraid to say so.

Read Less

The GOP Joins the Circus With Donald Trump

If you thought the 2016 Republican presidential race was going to be a sober affair, Donald Trump had other ideas. Trump jumped into the GOP race today with a long rant in which he boasted of his prowess as a negotiator and dismissed his competitors as a bunch of unintelligent losers who deserve to be thrown off a game show. It was a characteristically bizarre as well as an oddly compelling piece of political theater. But rather than attempting to analyze the laundry list of positions on the issues that he put forward in his speech, pundits would do better to ask whether Trump really intends to spend the next several months attempting to win the Republican nomination. If Trump is prepared to invest the time and the considerable personal wealth he has at his disposal in this enterprise, then the attitude toward his candidacy should not be limited to the mixture of dismay and mockery with which it was greeted by most of the press. A clownish, albeit opinionated celebrity, Trump doesn’t deserve serious consideration from the voters. But his presence will disrupt the race in ways that we can’t predict. Like it or not, if he meant what he said today, the Republican Party has just joined the Donald Trump circus.

Read More

If you thought the 2016 Republican presidential race was going to be a sober affair, Donald Trump had other ideas. Trump jumped into the GOP race today with a long rant in which he boasted of his prowess as a negotiator and dismissed his competitors as a bunch of unintelligent losers who deserve to be thrown off a game show. It was a characteristically bizarre as well as an oddly compelling piece of political theater. But rather than attempting to analyze the laundry list of positions on the issues that he put forward in his speech, pundits would do better to ask whether Trump really intends to spend the next several months attempting to win the Republican nomination. If Trump is prepared to invest the time and the considerable personal wealth he has at his disposal in this enterprise, then the attitude toward his candidacy should not be limited to the mixture of dismay and mockery with which it was greeted by most of the press. A clownish, albeit opinionated celebrity, Trump doesn’t deserve serious consideration from the voters. But his presence will disrupt the race in ways that we can’t predict. Like it or not, if he meant what he said today, the Republican Party has just joined the Donald Trump circus.

Given Trump’s history as publicity hound rather than an actual office seeker, it’s entirely possible that this announcement was, like his past flirtations with presidential runs, merely a stunt that will soon be retracted. If so, the rest of the GOP field will breathe a sigh of relief. Though not even the least interesting or intelligent of the Republican presidential wannabes need fear a comparison with Trump as a potential commander-in-chief, they should all be worried about the way the developer/television personality has of sucking the oxygen out of a room.

While every election can be counted on for a sideshow or two, Trump’s entry is significant because of the likelihood that it would put him on the platform for the initial series of presidential debates. Even before he announced, polls consistently showed Trump getting enough support to land him in the top ten, the cutoff point for entry into the first debate hosted on Fox News.

One might hope that when placed alongside more qualified candidates, Trump will be exposed as a buffoon and quickly forgotten. Even when he’s on the right side of an issue, his positions may be inconsistent, poorly thought out and come across like promotions for a reality show. But he’s an experienced performer who has a knack for tossing out one-liners and quips that are easily remembered. That doesn’t mean he can use the debates to actually give himself a chance to win. Voters aren’t that dumb. But his very presence on the stage and his willingness to say outrageous things will, almost by definition, give him a disproportionate amount of the attention and news coverage that will result from the debates. That means that even though his effort will come across as an out-of-control ego trip, Trump will deprive some other candidates of the chance to shine and prove their worth.

In a race this crowded, that will be a crucial factor since virtually all of the more serious contenders know they must do well in the debates if they are to have a chance to win. That’s a tall enough order even without the distraction that Trump will provide. This will not merely be a circus that could make it harder for one of the leading candidates to break out of the pack. It could also present difficulties for any of the less well known candidates to break into the top tier.

Part of the problem is that the mainstream media tends to judge all Republicans by the ravings of any one of them. It’s a given that Trump’s presence at the debates and on the stumps will be a standing distraction, as the media will inevitably be drawn to his gaffes and outrageous pronouncements and demand that his competitors respond. But he could wind up hurting all Republicans by saying dumb things that will tarnish them all if only by association. The Todd Akin precedent here will apply in a way that it would not if Trump were merely a spectator to the presidential derby. If he’s in it, each one of his statements will be brandished by the left as a club to beat all conservatives, even if most want nothing to do with him.

This was already a race without a real frontrunner and more than a few possible winners and others with the ability to make a splash. But Trump’s addition has the potential to change it in ways that we can’t predict. No matter what he says or does, if he sticks with it, he will have an impact on the outcome and not one that most Republicans should be pleased with.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

 

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.” 

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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):

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.