As I write this at the end of July, 2015 the U.S. Presidential elections are over a year away. However, the campaigning commenced some months ago and the first Republican presidential debate is coming up very soon. Currently, there are sixteen Republicans vying for their party’s nomination—but there is only room enough on stage for the top ten. Rather than engaging in an awesome Thunderdome style selection process, those in charge of the debate have elected to go with the top ten candidates as ranked in an average of some national polls. At this moment, billionaire and reality show master Donald Trump (and his hair) is enjoying a commanding lead over the competition. The once “inevitable” Jeb Bush is in a distant second place (but at least polling over 10%). Most of the remaining contenders are in the single digits—but a candidate just has to be in the top ten to get on that stage.
While Donald Trump is regarded by comedians as a comedy gold egg laying goose, he is almost universally regarded as something of a clown by the “serious” candidates. In the eyes of many, Trump is a living lampoon of unprecedented proportions. He also has a special talent for trolling the media and an amazing gift for building bi-partisan disgust. His infamous remarks about Mexicans, drugs and rape antagonized liberals, Latinos, and even many conservatives. His denial of the war hero status of John McCain, who was shot down in Viet Nam and endured brutal treatment as a prisoner of war, rankled almost everyone. Because of such remarks, it might be wondered why Trump is leading the pack.
One easy and obvious answer is name recognition. As far as I can tell, everyone on earth has heard of Trump. Since people will, when they lack other relevant information, generally pick a known named over unknown names, it makes sense that Trump would be leading the polls at this point. Going along with this is the fact that Trump manages to get and hold attention. I am not sure if he is a genius and has carefully crafted a persona and script to ensure that the cameras are pointed at him. That is, Trump is a master of media chess and is always several moves ahead of the media and his competition. He might also possess an instinctive cunning, like a wily self-promoting coyote. Some have even suggested he is sort of an amazing idiot-savant. Or it might all be a matter of chance and luck. But, whatever the reason, Trump is in the bright light of the spotlight and that gives him a considerable advantage over his more conventional opponents.
In response to Trump’s antics (or tactics), some of the other Republican candidates have decided to go Trump rather than go home. Rand Paul and Lindsay Graham seem to have decided to go full-on used car salesman in their approaches. Rand Paul posted a video of himself taking a chainsaw to the U.S. tax code and Lindsay Graham posted a video of how to destroy a cell phone. While Rand Paul has been consistently against the tax code, Graham’s violence against phones was inspired by a Trump stunt in which the Donald gave out Graham’s private phone number and bashed the senator.
While a sense of humor and showmanship are good qualities for a presidential candidate to possess, there is the obvious concern about how far a serious candidate should take things. There is, after all, a line between quality humorous showmanship and buffoonery that a serious candidate should not cross. An obvious reason for staying on the right side of the line is practical: no sensible person wants a jester or fool as king so a candidate who goes too far risks losing. There is also the matter of judgment: while most folks do enjoy playing the fool from time to time, such foolery is like having sex: one should have the good sense to not engage in it in public.
Since I am a registered Democrat, I am somewhat inclined to hope that the other Republicans get into their clown car and chase the Donald all the way to crazy town. This would almost certainly hand the 2016 election to the Democrats (be it Hilary, Bernie or Bill the Cat). Since I am an American, I hope that most of the other Republicans decide to decline the jester cap (or troll crown) and not try to out-Trump Trump. First, no-one can out-Trump the Donald. Second, trying to out-Trump the Donald would take a candidate to a place where he should not go. Third, it is bad enough having Trump turning the nomination process into a bizarre reality-show circus. Having other candidates get in on this game would do even more damage to what should be a serious event.
Another part of the explanation is that Trump says out loud (and loudly) what a certain percentage of Americans think. While most Americans are dismayed by his remarks about Mexicans, Chinese, and others, some people are in agreement with this remarks—or at least are sympathetic. There is a not-insignificant percentage of people who are afraid of those who are not white and Trump is certainly appealing to such folks. People with strong feelings about such matters will tend to be more active in political matters and hence their influence will tend to be disproportionate to their actual numbers. This tends to create a bit of a problem for the Republicans: a candidate that can appeal to the most active and more extreme members of the party will find it challenging to appeal to the general electorate—which tends to be moderate.
I also sort of suspect that many people are pulling a prank on the media: while they do not really want to vote for the Donald, they really like the idea of making the media take Trump seriously. People probably also want to see Trump in the news. Whatever else one might say about the Donald, he clearly knows how to entertain. I also think that the comedians are doing all they can to keep Trump’s numbers up: he is the easy button of comedy. One does not even need to lampoon him, merely present him as he is (or appears).
Many serious pundits do, sensibly, point to the fact that the leader in the very early polls tends to not be the nominee. Looking back at previous elections, various Republican candidates swapped places at the top throughout the course of the nomination cycle. Given past history, it seems unlikely that Trump will hold on to his lead—he will most likely slide back into the pack and a more traditional politician will get the nomination. But, one should never count the Donald out.
T. J. Babson says
“Since I am a registered Democrat…”
My sympathies. However, I hear there is a 12 step program that can help.
Michael LaBossiere says
Someone has to be doing the democrating.
The fourth estate likes to think, with some justification, that they are the ones who determine the two presidential candidates, and hopefully the president himself. They’re giving Trump all kinds of publicity in the hope that he will secure the Republican nomination, giving Mrs. Bill Clinton a free pass to the White House. In previous campaigns the media has simply refused to cover some candidates, Herman Cain, for example, keeping them away from any positive public exposure. In Cain’s case, there was media-fed innuendo about his relations with female employees that was used to dismiss him from consideration. Of course, he couldn’t have held a candle to sexual superstar Clinton but that’s the way it goes.
The life of BHO between his adolescent years and his community organizer days is a dark mystery. No media investigation of who his girlfriends might have been, what his general activities might have encompassed, virtually nothing about the private life of a person that’s in charge of the most powerful country in the world. We know more about the lives of Lenin and Stalin than we do about BHO. Dan Rather and Mary Mapes just don’t find him interesting. We don’t even know what his golf scores are.
In one way, BHO is a refreshing political anomaly. Unlike most of the current candidates,he’s not eligible for
social security benefits. Geezers like McCain (age 78), Trump (69), Clinton (67), Kerry (71), and others are all too old to be safely trusted behind the wheel of a car, much less directing the fortunes of the USA and its lackey allies.
T. J. Babson says
Trump is an interesting phenomenon. I think he is riding high in the polls because people are getting very angry that the Republicans have taken over practically all branches of government at every level and yet nothing has changed.
The thing is, every time I read about something outrageous Trump said, I find that he didn’t really say what the headline says he said.
BTW: Still waiting on Mike’s take on Planned Parenthood’s Baby Body Farm, complete with evil corporate personalities he so loves to demonize on the Right.
Have you read the Camile Paglia interview at Salon.com?
T. J. Babson says
Do you mean where she said this?
I think Stewart’s show demonstrated the decline and vacuity of contemporary comedy. I cannot stand that smug, snarky, superior tone. I hated the fact that young people were getting their news through that filter of sophomoric snark. Comedy, to me, is one of the major modern genres, and the big influences on my generation were Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl. Then Joan Rivers had an enormous impact on me–she’s one of my major role models. It’s the old caustic, confrontational style of Jewish comedy. It was Jewish comedians who turned stand-up from the old gag-meister shtick of vaudeville into a biting analysis of current social issues, and they really pushed the envelope. Lenny Bruce used stand-up to produce gasps and silence from the audience. And that’s my standard–a comedy of personal risk. And by that standard, I’m sorry, but Jon Stewart is not a major figure. He’s certainly a highly successful T.V. personality, but I think he has debased political discourse. I find nothing incisive in his work. As for his influence, if he helped produce the hackneyed polarization of moral liberals versus evil conservatives, then he’s partly at fault for the political stalemate in the United States.
I don’t demonize Fox News. At what point will liberals wake up to realize the stranglehold that they had on the media for so long? They controlled the major newspapers and weekly newsmagazines and T.V. networks. It’s no coincidence that all of the great liberal forums have been slowly fading. They once had such incredible power. Since the rise of the Web, the nightly network newscasts have become peripheral, and the New York Times and the Washington Post have been slowly fading and are struggling to survive.
Historically, talk radio arose via Rush Limbaugh in the early 1990s precisely because of this stranglehold by liberal discourse. For heaven’s sake, I was a Democrat who had just voted for Jesse Jackson in the 1988 primary, but I had to fight like mad in the early 1990s to get my views heard. The resistance of liberals in the media to new ideas was enormous. Liberals think of themselves as very open-minded, but that’s simply not true! Liberalism has sadly become a knee-jerk ideology, with people barricaded in their comfortable little cells. They think that their views are the only rational ones, and everyone else is not only evil but financed by the Koch brothers. It’s so simplistic!
T. J. Babson says
Mike, this is an obvious truth, right?
Liberals think of themselves as very open-minded, but that’s simply not true! Liberalism has sadly become a knee-jerk ideology, with people barricaded in their comfortable little cells. They think that their views are the only rational ones, and everyone else is not only evil but financed by the Koch brothers. It’s so simplistic!
Michael LaBossiere says
For some liberals. But, a slight tweak would make it apply to some conservatives.
“Conservatives think of themselves as very open-minded, but that’s simply not true! Conservatism has sadly become a knee-jerk ideology, with people barricaded in their comfortable little cells. They think that their views are the only rational ones, and everyone else is not only evil but financed by the Soros family and Jim Simons. It’s so simplistic!”
I don’t think of myself as open minded. I certainly consider myself a better thinker than those shedding tears over Cecil.
Michael LaBossiere says
I never met Cecil, but it is unfortunate he was shot. Real lion hunting should be done the old way-the hunter gets a spear and a knife. If a person can take a lion that way, he totally earned the kill. But then he has to eat it.
Why I’m not open-minded: 1) Every civilization in history was a patriarchy for a good reason. 2) Western Civilization is the best civilization in history. 3) America is the greatest country that ever existed. 4) Abortion is wrong. 5) Caitlyn Jenner is confused.
Once again (I think this makes twice, now) I agree with Mike. But only about the “slight tweak” part…
“Mike, and his fellow leftist academics, think of themselves as very open-minded, but that’s simply not true! Educators have sadly become a knee-jerk ideologues, with people barricaded in their comfortable little cells. They think that their views are the only enlighted ones, and everyone else is not only evil but financed by the corporations and Fox News. It’s so simplistic!”
And yes, I have brought the argument full circle, but I felt the original point needs to be emphasized. This because Mike glosses over the point. That being that conservatives, by definition, are SUPPOSED to be less open minded. Such is why people like Thomas Sowell, Milton Friedman, and Hayek are classical liberals, not technically conservatives. Look to the Tories in the UK for your classic C’s, with our establishment GOP for a lighter version. Camile Paglia is a true liberal. Mike is simply a socialist with fascist leanings. Thanks to the sophistry of academia, and 20th century philosophy (but I repeat myself), these labels have lost their meaning.
Yes, that. But more specifically to Magus’s btw:
Now that’s a liberal. Mike ain’t one of those. So what is Mike? Begins with an F…
Yes, I read that from the link on Drudge. Amazing how much Paglia and I think alike. Almost always agree with her recent stuff. Who would have thought….