WASHINGTON – Anxiety-ridden GOP masterminds will eventually find a way to solve the Trump Problem. Until they do, however, the Republican Party threatens to become as much of a laughingstock as what David Letterman used to call “that thing on Donald Trump’s head.”
Suddenly, according to recent polls, the iconically coiffed mogul has to be taken … how, exactly? Obviously it’s not possible to take Trump seriously, since there’s nothing remotely serious about him or his “campaign,” which is nothing more than a reality-show version of an actual campaign. But if his poll numbers are going to place him in the top tier of Republican candidates, he can’t be ignored.
Let’s call him a farce to be reckoned with.
A CNN poll released Wednesday found that Trump was favored by 12 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents nationally, putting him in second place behind dynastic scion Jeb Bush, who was at 19 percent. Other recent surveys showed Trump trailing only Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in Iowa and only Bush in New Hampshire.
Trump reacted to his rising political status with typical self-effacement and modesty, saying that “politicians are all talk and no action and the American public is ready for a leader with a proven track record of success.”
Trump’s track record would look a lot better without the corporate bankruptcies, and many critics doubt he’s worth anything near the $9 billion he claims. But let’s stipulate that he is a wealthy man who inherited a real estate empire from his father and displayed a talent for both making and losing huge amounts of money.
Let’s also stipulate that while Trump can’t win the nomination, he can be a significant factor in the race – and not, for the Republican Party, in anything resembling a good way.
Already, he has sent a clear message to Latino voters, whom GOP strategists desperately want to attract. Go away, Trump tells them; put as much distance between yourselves and this party as you possibly can.
In his announcement speech, which was really more of an extended improvised riff, Trump gave a description of Mexican immigrants that was both chauvinistic and xenophobic. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Note the magnanimity: Trump, a big man, is willing to take it on faith that some immigrants from Mexico are not rapists. He clearly believes that very many are, however. When pressed on the subject by CNN’s Don Lemon, Trump insisted, “Well, somebody’s doing the raping, Don. I mean somebody’s doing it. Who’s doing the raping? Who’s doing the raping?”
Who, indeed? Trump will have some free time to get to the bottom of this mystery because his slurs led NBCUniversal, which has aired his reality show “The Apprentice,” to sever all ties with him and Univision to announce it will no longer carry his Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. The Macy’s department store chain decided to no longer carry Trump’s line of menswear, which was interesting news to me because I didn’t know he had a line of menswear. Hard to imagine that the combed-over-mogul look was ever a big seller.
But I digress. The point was how Trump had insulted men and women of Mexican heritage. It’s hard to stay focused when writing about him because there is no thread to grasp. Trump professes to know everything about everything and refuses to acknowledge a shred of evidence to the contrary. “I’m right because I say so” pretty much sums up his political philosophy.
But everyone knows who he is, which is more than can be said for many of the hopefuls buried in the GOP scrum. And nobody knows how to draw attention to himself better than Trump. If by some unimaginable fluke he did become president, does anyone doubt he’d try to put his name in big gold letters on the north portico of the White House?
Viewers will tune in to the Republican debates just to see whom Trump insults next. “The Chinese” will come in for a lambasting, of course. Perhaps he will tell us again what a great relationship he has with “the blacks.” Or maybe he will expound on his solutions for the turmoil in the Middle East, which all seem to involve taking other countries’ oil.
The one thing Trump can accomplish is to bring the Republican campaign down to his level. A party that allows such a travesty deserves to lose.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.