I am getting hit on Twitter for forecasting Donald Trump’s demise a couple months ago in this space. As he has risen in the polls and dominated the news media since the Fox News debate, I have been told what an idiot I am to have underestimated The Donald. Even my wonderful cousins, who have lived in Italy for over 40 years, warn me that if former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi can do it over there, Trump may be able to get elected over here.
First of all, it is important to point out that Trump has galvanized support from a disaffected electorate for his blunt talk, in-your-face attitude and refusal to talk and act like a traditional politician. That is enough to scare the pants off Republicans, especially the country club set. “Could he really get the nomination?” they ask. Second, his supporters are getting increasingly passionate and involved and attending his speaking events in ever larger numbers. And third, he is dominating the news cycle. One reporter told me that they turned off the cameras when he started to speak to the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier in the year; now, they are carrying his press conferences live.
My colleague Bill Press made the point about the news media in a column: “As long as he brings them top ratings, they’ll give him all the time he wants. CNN’s Brian Stelter compared coverage given GOP candidates by CBS, NBC and ABC between Aug. 7 and Aug. 21. On the evening news, Trump talk consumed 36 minutes, 30 seconds. Jeb Bush came in a distant second with 9 minutes and 22 seconds. Marco Rubio, 1 minute, 35 seconds. And poor Lindsey Graham, only one second.”
Now, there is no doubt that outrageous talk, bluster and playing P.T. Barnum result in serious ink. But, as many columnists have pointed out, that does not make him a serious candidate. Nevertheless, it may not matter in the short term.
He may win a large number of primary and caucus states. Could he get the nomination? I doubt it. It’s not impossible, though. But, after all, when practically all the candidates drop out, and we are left with Donald Trump, any member of the Republican Party would jump at the opportunity to be the Trump-alternative.
There is one interesting question, however. If Trump can draw 24 million people to watch a debate in the summer on Fox News, what does that say about his ability to bring people into the system who are not traditional participants in the early stages of nominating a president? Could he flood the states in the winter and spring with new voters? Unclear.
But, at the end of the day, the American people will get the joke: Donald Trump is not emotionally or substantively fit to be president of the United States. He may run a company, but he can’t run the country. He may be appealing as a protest figure, as the “I’m mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take this any more” character, Peter Finch, in the film “Network.” But, ultimately, we are electing a president, we are not participating in a game show or dealing in reality TV or watching “Entertainment Tonight.”
Issues matter, plans for the country matter, ability to govern matters – and none of those things are strengths of Donald Trump. He is first and foremost a man with a tremendous ego that needs to be fed, not a man of serious ideas or well thought out positions that go beyond sound bites. His bluster and unvarnished rhetoric have gotten him farther than I would have thought but, at the end of the day, the American people will not buy what he is selling.
The scary thing for the Republican Party is whether its voters will get the joke. Will he ruin the party’s chances in 2016? Will he be their nominee or decide to run as a third party candidate? Regardless, Donald Trump is not good news for the Republican Party or the country, for that matter.