Is Donald Trump the real deal, or will his presidential quest end up more like that of Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan?
My guess is that by the end of the day, The Donald will be a footnote in the 2016 presidential race, done in by his own hubris or some long-buried scandal that you know the national media is working furiously to uncover (or invent).
But until that day comes, he certainly is entertaining, and in many ways even refreshing.
The refreshing part about Trump is his completely unscripted answers to reporters’ questions. In the business of politics, the responses given by most candidates are poll-tested to the point of blandness. The rule they follow is like the Hippocratic Oath followed by doctors – first, do no harm.
Trump, on the other hand, is harm waiting to happen. He says Saudi Arabia “without us” is gone. He says Mexican border crossers are killers and rapists. He says John McCain is not a war hero.
McCain not a war hero? How dare he breathe such heresy? Why, even McCain’s harshest political opponents acknowledge his sacrifice and bravery as a prisoner of war.
Not Trump. Oh, he attempted to back off slightly from his criticism, but his comment, “I like people who weren’t captured” is what lingers. The only reason there wasn’t more blowback is that McCain has never been a particular favorite of Republicans, or especially conservatives, despite being the last man standing after the bruising 2008 GOP primary.
Conservatives have never trusted McCain and have viewed him as a limelight seeker who never hesitated to change his position or buck his own party if doing so helped make him a media darling. So the voters that matter most to Trump right now – conservatives – largely gave him a pass on his McCain comments.
Many conservatives are also willing, so far, to give Trump a pass despite the fact that over the years his political allegiances have waffled. He has donated both to Republicans and Democratic candidates, but the fact is that most smart business people contribute to both parties on a regular basis, regardless of their own personal philosophies. Policies or particular votes that help their bottom lines can come from either party.
Running for president of the United States is the next logical step in the progression of Trump’s ego-driven life. Do not take “ego-driven” as a particular criticism. Everyone running for president is ego-driven. It takes a special combination of confidence, arrogance and ego to believe that you, out of 320 million Americans, are uniquely qualified to be president.
No slouch in the ego department is Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who first decided 15 years ago that he wanted to be president, until the reality of no name identification and no funding led him to reluctantly drop out before the first straw poll in Iowa. His run for the Oval Office this time is a little more reasonable, and in fact he would probably be a good president.
Donald Trump took over a real estate business founded by his father and continued to grow it, not only building his own edifices but also renting out his name for other structures. He wrote a bestseller in 1987 called “The Art of the Deal,” then went bankrupt, then came back, then wrote more books, including “The Art of the Comeback.”
Craving more attention, he signed on to host “The Apprentice,’ a television show which saw contestants vie to run one of Trump’s companies, and made Trump’s “you’re fired” a catchphrase that he tried to trademark. In recent years, the show morphed into “Celebrity Apprentice,” naturally.
On Thursday night, the first formal debate, televised by Fox News, will be held among viable candidates for the GOP nomination, viability determined by the top 10 candidates in a combination of national polls. Trump is at the top of the field in many polls, and will be on stage for the main event. (He said he was skipping a Monday night lower-key Iowa forum airing on C-SPAN.)
Depending on how much time he is allotted among the other contenders, Trump should shine at the debate. Debates with multiple participants do not lend themselves to a requirement that contestants – er, candidates – necessarily answer the questions that are asked.
Trump is adept at deflecting questions that he may not be comfortable answering in-depth, and he can instead steer quickly into more familiar territory without anyone having the time necessary to demand more from him.
But his involvement is certainly entertaining, and for me that is a major bonus. It’s always fun to watch someone enter the political fray who doesn’t have the typical political background, doesn’t play by the rules, seems to march to his own drummer and rattles the old guard and many in the media, not to mention all the entitled politicians who get mad because he’s even there. How dare he?
It is a fairly safe bet that The Donald will not last beyond a few more weeks. Trump’s trajectory seems too much like that of a comet, streaking fast, burning brightly, then quickly falling from view. The GOP nominee doing battle next fall with Hillary Clinton – and Hillary will be the Democratic nominee – is likely to be Jeb Bush, Scott Walker or Marco Rubio. Trump could always launch a third-party run, but such candidacies always end up as losing sideshows.
But as in sports, there’s a reason they play the game, no matter what the odds are going in. Upsets happen, although they happen a lot more often in sports than in politics, where the spotlight tends to weed the substantive from the blowhards over time.
Trump will be fun to watch in the short term because he is such an entertaining blowhard, which is enough to keep him sailing for now. Whether he is around for us to watch when next year rolls around depends on whether there’s any substance behind the sails.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.