Last Thursday night was a watershed moment for me. For the first time in 12 years, I missed a major political debate. Not only did I miss it, but I missed it deliberately. A friend asked me if I was going to watch and I replied to her, “Nope. Donald Trump has shit all over the process and it just ain’t fun anymore.” Rather an uncouth statement, but it sums up how I feel perfectly.
To understand the phenomenon that is Donald Trump, it is necessary to understand how the Republican Party came to the unfortunate crossroads where it stands today.
I became interested in politics in 1991 when my father introduced me to Rush Limbaugh during a trip to lunch. The Bush-Clinton-Perot election of ’92 was the first major political event in which I was a spectator (I was too young to vote.) I wavered a bit in college, causing me to miss out on the GOP Congressional takeover in ’94 and the Clinton-Dole contest in ’96. But in 1998 I began to come back to my Republican roots. It’s probably not a coincidence that I dropped out of college in ’98. Each political cycle has brought with it interesting twists and turns for me that have been more engrossing than any mystery novel.
In 2000, I voted for the first time and proudly pulled the lever for George W. Bush. That’s probably what heightened my interest when the Bush-Gore electoral controversy hit. It was at that point that politics ceased to be a mere hobby for me and became a passion. It was a no-brainer for me to vote once again for Bush in 2004. I’ve only voted for a Democrat once. That was for the mayor of Lincoln, NE in 2006 when it turned out that the Republican candidate was certifiably nuts.
By 2008, I had moved from Lincoln to Denver and watched the political drama unfold on both sides of the aisle as President Bush prepared to make his swan song. The winter of ’08 gave us an interesting cast of characters. On the right, we had John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and the late Fred Thompson. On the left, we had Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson.
On the left, the real drama lay in the contest between Hillary and Obama. The left was caught in a beggar’s choice; should I vote for the first woman president, or the first black president? IN the end, racial guilt won out over gender guilt, much to the consternation of the Clinton camp.
Sidebar: I really believe that Edwards would have served as Obama’s running mate if he had not been caught in a scandalous affair. It wasn’t the affair itself that drew the ire of the American public. Democrat voters are so over that whole adultery thing after Bill Clinton made it no big deal. But the fact that he was cheating on his cancer-stricken wife made his very name toxic. So it was up to good old Slow Joe.
ON the right, it was a contest of moderates. In the wake of 9/11 and the subsequent military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush had become unpopular. The party was eager to put forth a candidate that didn’t appear to be too conservative. McCain, Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee all were openly critical of Bush. Fred Thompson was the only solid conservative in the race, but he seemed too low-energy for GOP voters. Ron Paul was the token libertarian spoiler who always comes to the party and never knows when to leave.
I remember writing a depressive rant on Old Blurty about the inescapable fact that McCain was our presumptive nominee in early March of ’08. I kept lamenting over and over, “John McCain is going to be our Goddamn candidate!” It was sad, but I knew that, in the end, I would choke down my puke and pull the lever for him. He made it easier when he executed his only smart move of the general election campaign by selecting Sarah Palin to share the ticket, but his clever tactic ultimately backfired on him and we got President Obama.
Honestly, I think Ronald Reagan could have returned from the grave in all his glory and it wouldn’t have assured the GOP a win in the White House. In addition to two unpopular wars, the country had faced a recession, a housing crisis, TARP and the eminent collapse of two financial institutions. The country was ready for a change and Barack Obama’s positive message served as an opiate for the masses.
2012 was a different story entirely. Obama now had a track record on which he could be attacked by his Republican challengers. Such challengers presented themselves in the form of more conservative candidates such as Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. The only two moderates were Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, though Romney shifted more to the right, leaving Huntsman as the lone mainstream center candidate. Ron Paul once again showed up at the party, but this time, drew more attention from young people who served as a growing chorus for the legalization of marijuana.
Herman Cain is notable because he foreshadowed what was to come four years later by serving as the first impactful candidate running under the label of, “Outsider.” He attempted to use his credentials as a successful businessman who was untainted by the political system to gain traction and he did at first, but a series of rumored sexual scandals forced him to drop out. He was the favorite of the Tea Party, a loosely formed, grass roots political organization that sprang into being in 2010 as an answer to the passage of Obamacare. The Tea Party proved to be a force in the 2010 mid-term elections, but many of the candidates whom they supported were beaten by more mainstream candidates in either primary or general elections of 2012.
When all the smoke began to clear during the primary season of 2012, it was evident that the Republicans wanted to play it safe. The economy was still sluggish and everyone wanted someone who had a good head for money to take the helm. That someone turned out to be Mitt Romney. He was a very respectable candidate whom I voted for in both 2008 and 2012, but his mild-mannered demeanor was no match for Obama in the political ring, even with the addition of Paul Ryan as his running mate. It didn’t help that Romney (also a successful businessman) was painted by the liberal media as a rich guy who didn’t care about poor people. The class warfare stratagem was in full swing and resonated with much of the public in the wake of the Subprime Mortgage Crisis and the Occupy Movement.
The victory of the GOP in capturing both houses of Congress in 2014 did little to assuage the fear and anger of many conservatives who felt that Obama was bringing the fight to the party and they were rolling over and taking their thrashing with a smile. As I wrote in a previous article, Obama achieved his signature victory in the passage of Obamacare. Through executive action, he also made headway in other controversial areas such as immigration, gay rights, climate change and, most recently, gun control. The perception of conservatives was that he was the big, bad bully on the block and the GOP establishment, embodied by the likes of Speaker of the House John Boehner, were impotent. The budget is the best example. When members of the GOP such as Senator Ted Cruz threatened to shut down the government over passage of the budget, Obama laughed at them and Boehner capitulated.
I was excited about the coming presidential election as we entered 2015. As usual, there were many names in speculation for candidates; Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan and Bobby Jindal, just to name a few. When I saw Marco Rubio speak at the 2012 Republican convention before Mitt Romney gave his acceptance speech, I knew he would be running someday. I wasn’t surprised when he announced his candidacy in June. I wasn’t surprised when Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush all announced. I was mildly surprised when Dr. Ben Carson declared his intentions to run because he just didn’t seem like the type. I barely recognized Carly Fiorina’s name, vaguely remembering her from some bid she made in a California contest somewhere; a bid she lost, by the way. Huckabee surprised me a little after he declined to run in 2012, but like Romney, he too had shifted to the right in recent years and I thought he would do well. Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Rick Perry and George Pataki rounded out a swollen field.
I paid little attention to what was happening in the Democrat camp. For years it had been a foregone conclusion that Hillary was the presumptive nominee for 2016. I did wonder if Vice-President Biden might run and was a little surprised when he didn’t, given the rumors of acrimony between the Clintons and Obama. I chuckled when Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy. I lumped him in the Ralph Nader category of people who could and would never win in a million years.
I never saw Donald Trump coming. Yes, there were whispers of him running for president, but that was nothing new. The Donald had been making noise about running since 1988 and it never happened.
Donald Trump, multi-millionaire whom I first came to know in the early ‘90’s during his tabloid-saturated divorce from his wife Ivana after his affair with actress Marla Maples came to light. Donald Trump, who is best known for buying and selling properties, many of which he converts into casinos. Donald Trump, who is skilled at running beauty pageants such as Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe. Donald Trump, who has donated large sums of money to political candidates on both sides of the aisle. Donald Trump, the well-known host of the NBC reality show, The Apprentice, during which time he applied for a trademark application for the words, “You’re fired.” Donald Trump, who opposes Obamacare, even though he has publicly called for a single payer healthcare system in the past. Donald Trump, who has seen four of his businesses go bankrupt over the years. Donald Trump, who has switched registrations between the Democrat Party, the Republican Party and the Reform Party and as an Independent in the past four decades. Donald Trump, who twice tried to invoke eminent domain to force small business owners and a private citizen to sell their land to him for his new business ventures,. Donald Trump, narcissist, media whore and entertainer.
When he announced his candidacy in June of last year, I was sure he was doomed. He shot off his mouth about immigrants coming to our country who were rapists, drug-dealers and criminals and the political backlash began. Outrage poured from both ends of the political spectrum, manifesting itself in condemnations, protests and worst of all, boycotts. Boycotts can hurt the most because they often hit someone (be it a business person or politician) in their pocketbook. The apex of this occurred when NBC canceled The Apprentice and the airing of Trump’s beauty contests. But Trump forged on, never letting up in his pugnacious, boorish attacks on his opponents. In Trump’s view, anyone who dared to criticize him was a fair target, whether they were his primary GOP rivals such as Jeb Bush, critical media figures such as Megyn Kelly, or occasionally, the Democrats. His statements were peppered by non-presidential, juvenile characterizations such as, “Stupid,” “Idiots,” “terrible,” and “Incompetent.”
Trump has said that we are going to build a wall along our southern border and Mexico is going to pay for it. Crowds of conservatives cheer, but when debate moderators and interviewers ask for specifics, he dodges and weaves.
Trump said of John McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Again, the media predicted the demise of Trump, sure that he had angered veterans and conservatives who were friendly to the military. Again, they were wrong, as his poll numbers rose.
Referring to his primary opponent Carly Fiorina, Trump said, “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” Carly turned his comments into a golden opportunity in a subsequent debate, and some (certainly not all) feminists decried his remarks, but again, his poll numbers stayed solid.
When Trump mocked a disabled reporter at a rally, there was some feigned outrage, but nobody really cared and he still remained atop the polls.
After the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Trump suggested that we ban all Muslims from entering our country and suggested that we place all mosques under surveillance. He said we should register all Muslims in a national database and he claimed that thousands of Muslims cheered when the towers fell on 9/11; a claim that could never be proven. When the United Kingdom began a petition to ban Trump from their country on the grounds that he was using hate speech against Muslims, he waved it like a badge of honor.
His latest political stunt is to call the citizenship of his most dangerous challenger, Ted Cruz, into question. And now…what do you know…a lawyer from Texas is suing Cruz, claiming he is unqualified to run for the presidency because he is not a citizen. Is this the chicken or the egg? You be the judge.
Like many pundits, I was certain that Trump would be a flash in the pan. Now here we are less than a month away from the Iowa caucuses and it’s clear that The Donald isn’t going anywhere. Part of this can be attributed to the media. Conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly love The Donald. I used to be a dittohead, but now find Rush nearly unlistenable due to his thinly-veiled bias toward Trump, a man with whom Rush has probably played more than his share of golf. O’Reilly, who often skewers politicians for a lack of specificity, seems to have no problem giving Trump a pass and overtly defending him when the likes of Charles Krauthammer, George Will and Brit Hume question his substance.
Even the media figures who claim to hate Trump are inadvertently helping him. You cannot turn on any news program or current events show without encountering a discussion about Donald Trump. This goes for all of the major networks, including CNN and MSNBC.
I think a minor reason for Trump’s imperviousness is his celebrity status. He does have a charismatic personality and, like it or not, people are drawn to wealth and fame. We’ve elected celebrities to political office in the past. Remember Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Franken and Jesse Ventura? Sarah Palin became a celebrity after she resigned as governor of Alaska. Yes, Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood actor, but his movie career had been dead for decades and he had served as governor of California before he became president.
But there is a deeper, more troubling reason for Trump’s success. It is anger on the right. This is characterized by Trump’s remarks in the most recent debate when he said, “I’m not angry. I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger.”
Is this how we want to be known as Republicans going forward? The GOP: The Party of Anger? We’ve already carried the spurious label of, “The party of angry, bigoted white men,” for decades. Is Trump the guy to turn it around? In his own words, I don’t think so. Ronald Reagan was a transformative figure because he brought his warmth and charm to an angry Washington. He revived and unified his party through his cheerful spirit of optimism and hope. Compare Reagan’s Shining City on a Hill, speech to Trump’s Make America Great Again kick-off speech and you’ll see the glaring contrast between the two.
At it’s core, anger is just another human emotion, no different than love, envy, joy or sorrow. We often paint it in a negative light, but anger can be a positive force when channeled properly. The followers of Dr. Martin Luther King were angry, but they used their anger to affect positive socio/political change. The reason we fear anger so much is because it often leads people down a destructive path. It damages relationships, causes violence and often ends in burned bridges that can never be rebuilt.
As I have demonstrated, many conservatives are angry at the so-called Republican establishment. If you listen to the pundits and callers on talk radio, you will hear a common refrain. “Obama has been in power for seven years and Republicans haven’t done jack squat to stop him. But Trump…we love him! He tells it like it is.” They feel bullied, frustrated and helpless to stop an encroaching political tidal wave that threatens to permanently alter the landscape of our country. In Trump, they think they see a fighter who can go in, do what he wants, say what he wants and really stick it to the Democrats. Their anger is tinged with hope that a Reagan-like figure will come along to save the party and the country. Trump is no Reagan. He is a populist, egocentric windbag who is a master of negative attention-seeking behavior.
The best illustration of this occurred in 2011, when Donald Trump continually poked at President Obama, demanding that he show his long form birth certificate so that he would prove his American citizenship, thereby validating his presidency. Rather than telling The Donald to go take a long walk off of Trump Tower, Obama yielded and produced his birth certificate at a press conference.
The next day, Rush Limbaugh was drooling with glee on his radio show. “Donald Trump was able to accomplish what the Republican establishment wasn’t,” he crowed. Really, Rush? Alex Jones represents the GOP? For any serious Republican, the Birther Movement was a joke and his citizenship was a non-issue. But the birth certificate issue is classic Trump in a nutshell.
This may very well have been the genesis of Trump’s latest notion to try once again for the Oval Office. He probably thought, if I can make Obama produce that document, I can do anything.
Whatever else he may be, Trump is the consummate salesman. One of his greatest gifts is the ability to win others over, which is a top asset in the business world. He did it with Chris Wallace, who repeatedly challenged him in an early debate, but now seems to practically fawn over him whenever he appears on Fox News Sunday.
When you combine anger with desperation and throw in a dash of false hope, you end up with a poisonous potion. Just ask the German people of the 1930’s, when they surrendered control of their nation to Hitler. Or you could ask the people of America at the height of the Great Depression when they elected FDR, thereby ushering in the first elements of socialism under the guise of Uncle Sam taking care of the people. Anger blinds us until we see and hear only what we want to see and hear, all but abandoning our reason and critical thinking skills. Historically, people who cast their votes from a place of anger without optimism or rationality to back it up wind up with a case of buyer’s remorse.
Sidebar: We’re also seeing a good deal of anger on the left. Obama has nudged our country further down the path toward socialism and the left can smell it in the air. Hillary is a terrible choice for our country, but she’s not a socialist. She represents old school American liberalism, when it was still respectable to be somewhat hawkish, when capitalism wasn’t a word worthy of censorship and when women stayed in loveless marriages to get ahead in their careers. Crazy old Bernie Sanders shouldn’t have this much traction in the polls, but Democrats want a choice and are angry that an old relic like Hillary is presuming on their favors. Barring any medical or legal complications, she’ll be the Democrat nominee, but in a few years, when a younger, more attractive and dynamic candidate comes along who is unashamedly socialist, watch out, America!
Ian Tuttle recently published an article in National Review that suggested that, while Republicans don’t want Trump to win, we should all suck it up and back him if he becomes our nominee. He believes that Trump just might be manageable if he is forced to answer to the American public and the members of the GOP as president. I disagree wholeheartedly. Trump is a lot of things, but manageable is not one of them. We’ve had no success in controlling him thus far, and residency in the White House would only fuel his already super-sized ego. I know I preach the philosophy that party trumps person, but if Big-T Trump should become the standard bearer for the GOP, I will shamelessly vote for my first write-in candidate, penning in the name of Raylan Givens, U.S. Marshall, for president.
Of course, we could always see a third party candidate materialize out of the storm. Michael Medved, my last vestige of sanity in talk radio land, thinks that Michael Bloomberg might run on a third party ticket if Trump should be the nominee. Hillary, Trump and Bloomberg; talk about a beggar’s choice. I think it more likely that we would see the scenario play out that we saw in Colorado in 2010, when the GOP discovered that our candidate was a fraud and unofficially backed Tom Tancredo. It’s likely that Marco Rubio would probably declare himself an independent and run against Trump and Hillary with the quiet backing of the Republican National Committee. Nice try, GOP, but if this scenario plays out, Hillary wins. If it’s a two-way race between Trump and Clinton, Hillary wins. If Bloomberg runs, Hillary wins.
As I sit here writing this on a winter afternoon, I tell you honestly that I have never felt a more profound sense of dread or impending sorrow over the political future of this country than I do right now. Donald Trump has managed to rob me of my passion for politics. Think of it in terms of someone who loves to play chess. He goes into a game, sits down across from his opponent, smiles broadly, and then some bored, rich prick walks up to the table, squats down and takes a massive dump right on the chessboard. Even if you clean it up with bleach, who’s going to want to play the game after a heinous episode such as that?
So think about it, conservatives. The Iowa caucuses are about three weeks away. Choose wisely and choose well. Don’t let your anger destroy you. Rush Limbaugh says that elections have consequences. How sad it is to realize that he has forgotten his own sage wisdom.