Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Assessing the Trump Phenomenon

One thing's certain: Donald Trump is not going to be America's 45th president. It's a pretty safe bet that he won't even be the Republican Party's nominee. The conventional wisdom is that the Trump phenomenon will soon begin to wane, either organically or from some sort of implosion. Given his penchant for talking first and thinking later, it's not hard to fathom a verbal gaffe so offensive that even his most ardent, loyal supporters will finally throw in the Trump logo-embossed towel.

Oh sure, The Donald's polling continues to surge. And this week he's even polling surprisingly well in a head-to-head match-up against the Democrats' presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton. Furthermore, despite several controversial statements about women that make him sound like the party's biggest misogynist, he has a 60% favorable rating among Republican women, prompting CNN's Wolf Blitzer this week to ask, "What does this tell us?" Well, at the very least, Wolf, it tells us that Republican women are incredibly tolerant of their front runner repeatedly making outrageously sexist comments.

"I cherish women," Trump has said in his defense. Of course, by cherish he means calling women fat, ugly, stupid, angry, emotional, hormonal bimbos whenever they disagree with him.

So what does all this tell us? For one thing, firing up the radical fringe 15-20% of the base--while completely alienating moderates and independents, let alone women, blacks and Hispanics--won't get him very far. The lust affair with Trump will, likes those in the past with Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, "the Ricks" (Santorum/Perry), Mike Huckabee and others with sensational, albeit brief celebrity-like moments in the sun, will surely end. But there are some very valuable lessons to be learned here from the rise and ultimate fall of Donald Trump.

Trump's candidacy demonstrates a growing dissatisfaction among voters with politicians' business-as-usual approach. His noteworthy ascendancy is a testament to those who want something different and exciting; someone they deem honest, straightforward and independent. While Jeb Bush pleads "I'm my own man," no one really believes him. He's intravenously connected to the old, rich, white GOP machine (can you say "Paul Wolfowitz"  for craps' sake!?) and, well, there's that little thing like his last name.

But no one for a nanosecond doubts that Trump is his own man. He's got a Fort Knox-like treasure chest of fuck you money and freely speaks accordingly. And despite five deferments which kept him from serving in Vietnam, he's masterfully crafted an enviable tough-guy, take-no-shit-from-anyone personae full of bombast, braggadocio and balls. To his small but clearly outspoken minority of fervent fans, he's a modern day political John Wayne. The man that candidate Bush dreams of being.

But even more interesting is that Trump is the far, far right version of the brassy, truth-telling everyman that Chris Christie was supposed to be. Except that Christie, besides being embroiled in scandal which has tainted that reputation of honesty and integrity, is also an angry, obese bully from New Jersey...not qualities of a credible presidential nominee (his polling is pathetically low).

To be sure, if God is a Democrat, Trump's popularity among Republicans will continue to grow and he will, despite odds of a zillion-1 against it, win the nomination (can you say, "President Hillary Clinton?"). But just imagine if Bush was able to tap into the sentiment fueling Trump's historically loony campaign, and the qualities so beloved of the candidate himself, without all the fiery rhetoric and controversy. Imagine a Bush who can credibly convey that he truly is his own man, not indebted or beholden to anyone. Someone who says what he believes and sticks to it and who dares anyone to challenge him. Imagine that Bush going up against Clinton.  Now that's a match-up that would make the Democrat gods shudder.