Yes, I am back to Donald Trump. Not because of him exactly but because of what his success in this presidential primary so far says about us. Not that I know, but the question intrigues me.
What I do know is how off base I was when I dismissed him simply as an attention craving “clown” in a post last July. My excuse is that he appeared clownish during the last presidential race when he insisted that Barack Obama may well have been born in Kenya. All I could see then was an attention monger who was willing to do or say anything to attract more of the spotlight. Given events since then, I surmise there is much more than met my eye. Back then I thought it easy to understand Trump. Now it has become a project.
Though I have never read it, I imagine Trump’s The Art of the Deal gets to the heart of how he operates. When negotiating a deal you don’t begin with what you are willing to accept (unless you are Barack Obama). You begin far short of that, so you have room to bargain. I view Trump’s demand to deport all illegal immigrants to be his starting point for a deal. If the Donald were to be elected president he would start there and work his way to a more reasonable alternative.
If he then accomplished immigration reform he would admit: You think I would actually try to deport 11 million people? That’s crazy.
The people who seem to know him best insist that Donald is really smart and he has obviously been very successful. I infer from that he does not believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya, nor does he plan to deport millions and build a huge wall. I look back at the birther issue and wonder whether it was a trial balloon to see what would happen if he asserted something outrageous and stuck with it. What he got was lots of media attention and the beginning of a base of political support. What I saw as clownish, he saw as field testing.
In making his birther argument Trump often indicated he had people investigating the matter and discovering information that raised questions as to where Obama was born. If he ever produced a shred of evidence, I missed it. He was testing the media and they failed the test. He could say whatever he wanted and it would be covered not confronted. Employing that technique he has taken a political race and turned it into a bigger reality TV hit than his Apprentice.
As he reminds us daily, he’s what is drawing the big TV audiences for the Republican debates. Now the star wants to dictate to the debate organizers some new terms otherwise he will boycott. For example, he wants the channels to donate some of their profits on the show to charities. Or he walks.
How good is that? It is a show of both strength and heart, very attractive traits in a president. Add to those traits the sheer fact that he has parlayed what initially seemed like a joke to many into a front running primary campaign. In short, he tells us he is a winner and up to now he is demonstrating it.
By now you may think that I’m doing a lot of speculating, even if you can appreciate my points. Here’s something more concrete.
Years ago, I can’t recall when, in an interview with Larry King, Trump revealed a key to his make up. King noted Donald often seemed to get the edge when interacting with others and asked how he did it. Trump’s response was something like this: Before I go there, Larry, has anyone ever said you have terrible breath? Really Larry, I mean it. I’m not trying to be mean but it really is terrible and I am surprised you don’t know.”
Years later I saw Trump on TV dissecting the exchange, pointing out that the terrible breath comment was him demonstrating to King how he got the edge on others. I think King missed his point.
Now I think it is the rest of us who don’t get the picture. While his responses aren’t the usual poll tested political pablum that irritates us (mostly the reverse actually) , they are not exactly authentic, either. Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders are authentic. They speak their minds and have been saying the same sorts of things for years.
Trump, on the other hand, has said various things over the years and, since the media never presses for details (such acts could make the star boycott them), I have no idea what he really thinks. All I know is that he has impressed me with his ability to fashion a political race into the THE DONALD SHOW.
I now think of him as more of a Svengali than a clown. And he looks like a winner until proven otherwise.