3 Truths About Trump
The passions evoked by Donald Trump deserve notice. His “candidacy” does not.
The first two of these points about Donald Trump are obvious but nonetheless worth repeating, during the froth of current Trump-driven excitement. The third might have escaped your notice.
1) Donald Trump will not be the 45th president of the United States. Nor the 46th, nor any other number you might name. The chance of his winning nomination and election is exactly zero.
Why? Forget the majorities of his own party’s voters who say in some surveys that they would “never” vote for him. Instead, consider this aspect of his background:
All former incumbents had been through some sort of public service before running for the presidency. The great majority of them had been elected to something: The House, the Senate, a mayorship, a governorship, the state legislature, the vice-presidency, something and usually many things. Of the few exceptions, all had held important non-elective public positions. William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover had been Cabinet secretaries before running for the White House; Zachary Taylor, Ulysses Grant, and of course Dwight Eisenhower had been famous military commanders.
To put it another way, the number of presidents between #1 and #44 who took office, as Trump would, with absolutely no elective, appointive, or military public experience is … zero. (The most recent major-party counterexample would be Wendell Willkie, a corporate lawyer and one-time Democrat who had never previously run for office. As Republican nominee in 1940 he took 82 electoral votes, versus 449 for FDR. The most recent third-party illustrations would be Ross Perot and Ralph Nader, neither of whom won any electoral votes in their repeated runs. All of these men had served in the military but not held public office.)
The number will still be zero when president #45 is sworn in. Precedents and barriers change: We now have a non-white president, and sooner or later we’ll have a Madam rather than a Mister President. But not the precedent of putting people with some relevant experience in the job. Everyone knows this, probably including Trump himself. Being Leader of the Free World might look easy: “If that guy can do it, how hard could it be?” In fact dealing with legislators, budgets, foreign leaders, the press, a fickle citizenry, and an endless flow of life-and-death decisions is nearly an impossible job, all the more so for someone who would come to it as a 70-year-old rookie.
2) Anyone who has seen previous elections knows that Trump is this cycle’s Herman Cain, who had at least served as the Omaha Federal Reserve Board chairman (and who for a while was the highest-polling GOP candidate), or its Michelle Bachmann, who had of course been elected to Congress, or its Al Sharpton. Everyone knows, for certain, that he will fade as the novelty of his histrionic act gets old and as Republican voters begin to think about actually winning. If you doubt this, tell me how much you’ll bet on Trump, and we’ll have a deal.
We know what will happen—that Trump will drop out—even though we don’t know exactly when. We know too that each day spent covering his alleged “campaign” means a day of lost time for the Republicans in choosing their real candidate and developing their themes.
The reaction to Trump’s noxious anti-Mexican comments—positive reaction from some voters who send him “Dittos,” as they once did to Rush Limbaugh, but won’t actually vote for him, negative from all those cutting ties with him—says something about today’s politics of race and immigration and thus is worth mentioning. But any story based on the premise that Trump has any chance of becoming the nominee, let alone the president, is a disservice to the reader. Bob Garfield of On the Media explained this weekend why that goes double for polls showing Trump “in the lead.”
Practicing what I preach, this will be my final mention of Trump until whatever happens in the first GOP debate next month.
3) Given point #1, about Trump’s complete absence of any sort of public-service experience, and given also his “some, I assume, are good people” smear of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, the most delicious put-down of Trump came from long-shot Democratic candidate (and my longtime friend) Jim Webb.
Webb and Trump were both born in 1946. They both graduated from college in 1968, Webb from the Naval Academy, Trump from Wharton/Penn. (That same spring, Bill Clinton was graduating from Georgetown and George W. Bush from Yale.) As is well known, after graduation Webb and Trump went very different ways. Webb went as a Marine officer to Vietnam, where he was badly wounded and highly decorated. Trump joined his father’s real estate firm to begin his career.
Thus Webb responds to Trump and his “Mexican rapists” comment with a deft little stiletto. He quotes a note from Oscar Munoz, who served in Webb’s own Delta Company in Vietnam through heavy combat in 1969. Munoz, “I assume,” is a good person. I also assume that Trump might call him a credit to his race. And although I haven’t asked Webb, I know him well enough to understand what message he was conveying. It was: Oscar Munoz, whose people you disdain, was by my side during the fire fights, Mr. Trump. Where were you?
The passions revealed by Trump’s know-nothing comments deserve some notice. As long as the accompanying stories don’t lure the reader into imagining that his “candidacy” is real.
Housekeeping note: on Monday I will be back home and on the grid for the first time in a very long time. I am primed to catch up on military matters, the American Futures saga, and other important themes.