Donald Trump, the bombastic builder of Trump towers and Trump gambling casinos is moving from his reality TV show to the theater of presidential elections. If he survives the first three months of mass media drubbing him and his notorious affliction of ‘leaving no impulsive opinion behind,’ he’s going to be trouble for the other fifteen or so Republican presidential candidates.
Already the commentators have derided his massive egotitis – he said “I” 195 times in his announcement speech, not counting the 28 times he said “my” or “mine” or the 22 mentions of “me.” But Trump revels in self-promotion and, as one commentator wrote, “plays the media like a harp.”
If he is still campaigning by Labor Day, watch out Republicans! He will be a big nightmare for Republican contenders – from Jeb Bush to Ted Cruz, from John Kasich to Scott Walker. Here are some reasons why:
Many American voters love to vote for very rich candidates, whether they are Republicans or Democrats. They believe they can’t be bought. They love business success stories. And being very rich, the media keeps the very rich candidates in the limelight, as do the national polls.
He can pay for his own media. Remember billionaire Ross Perot and his purchase of national television to show his charts on deficits. People laughed. But Mr. Perot got 19 million votes in 1992, even after dropping out of the campaign in the summer and being labeled a conspiracy theorist before again becoming a candidate in the fall!
Trump regularly and personally attacks the other candidates, which makes for regular news. The other candidates do not like to engage in personal attacks unless under political duress.
Trump turns liabilities into assets, including his vaunted forthcoming disclosures of his net worth – he focused on assets, while ignoring many complex liabilities. While Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney before him tried to play down their wealth, Trump insists he’s worth over ten billion dollars. He even ridiculed Bush who announced for president without wearing a suit and tie.
To accusations that he has taken public subsidies and eminent domain protections for his giant projects, Trump replies that capital and tax money create jobs and more businesses.
Trump will crowd other candidates out from valuable TV, radio (Rush Limbaugh thinks highly of him) and print space. To adjust, they may have to become more flamboyant, further expanding the circus-like atmosphere of the Republican Primaries, while the Democratic Party leaders chortle.
Some of Trump’s positions have sizable support among Republican voters. He believes in public works programs on a big scale. He talks jobs, jobs, jobs and says he’s the only one among the candidates, who has been creating jobs. He objects strongly to the trade agreements, including the proposed Trans-Pacific deal now in the news, on the grounds that other countries, such as Japan and China, are superior negotiators and are taking us to the cleaners. He wants to build a tall wall on the Mexican border. He is against Common Core and federalizing education. He warned against invading Iraq in some detail, predicting it would expand Iran’s influence. He is for a strong military and talks about the mistreatment of veterans. He exudes self-confidence and attaches it to American national interests.
Having survived tough, acidic New York journalism for years, he is almost scandal-proof. Attacks from his business and political enemies have helped to immunize the big-time scapper from serious reporting. He feeds off public cynicism about politics.
If the Republican bigwigs try to exclude or humiliate him, Trump has the means to run as an Independent candidate for president – as Mr. Perot essentially did under the banner of his Reform Party. Just the prospect of that added nightmare might induce caution at the top levels of the GOP.
He is not going to run out of money and, unlike his competitors, he doesn’t have to spend any precious campaign time dialing for dollars or making campaign promises. He can hire the smart strategists, speech-writers, election lawyers and primary delegate-seekers.
One hurdle Trump may not be able to surmount is Saturday Night Live (SNL). Lorne Michaels, SNL’s forever producer, uses exaggeration and satire to lampoon politicians. How can he satirize buffoonish satire itself? How can he exaggerate Trump who brags that the master bathroom on his private jet has a 24-karat-gold-plated sink?
Ralph Nader’s latest book is: Unstoppable: the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.