There is an Ivy League grad who has spent most of his life in Manhattan, where he is chauffeured around in limousines. He frequently brags to strangers about his massive personal wealth. In public statements, he has advocated government healthcare, a woman’s right to an abortion, an assault weapons ban, and paying off the national debt by forcing rich people to forfeit 14.25 percent of their total wealth. When the man married his third wife, he invited Bill and Hillary Clinton to the wedding, and he has given many thousands to their political campaigns and their foundation. He’s donated many thousands more that helped elect Democrats to the Senate and the House. And George W. Bush was “maybe the worst president in the history of this country,” the man said in 2008. “He was so incompetent, so bad, so evil.”
On paper, this is not someone you’d expect to excel in the 2016 Republican Party primary. But Donald Trump is excelling. Thanks to his celebrity, a few epic flip-flops, and his willingness to pander to the most xenophobic element of the GOP’s base, the real-estate developer and reality-TV star is polling near the top of the field. While he is unlikely to win the nomination, he may well appear at the presidential debates and continue to tarnish the GOP brand in the eyes of Hispanic voters. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said during his official announcement. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems. And they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”
As execrable as those highly misleading beliefs would be if earnestly held, it is arguably worse for a man to disingenuously stoke xenophobia to advance his political prospects.
Thus it is worth noting that, after Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss, Donald Trump told the website Newsmax that Republicans would continue to lose elections if they came across as mean-spirited and unwelcoming to people of color. Democrats were kind toward illegal immigrants, Trump said, whereas Romney “had a crazy policy of self deportation which was maniacal. It sounded as bad as it was, and he lost all of the Latino vote. He lost the Asian vote. He lost everybody who is inspired to come into this country.” He added that the GOP needs a comprehensive solution to “this incredible problem that we have with respect to immigration, with respect to people wanting to be wonderful, productive citizens of this country.”
These discordant statements praising and savaging immigrants are not entirely unlike one another—they’re both framed as bold efforts to tell it like it is. Donald Trump is a master at that affectation. He seems as if he is fearlessly stating his core convictions, consequences be damned, even when he is being a shameless poseur.
Some conservatives understand this.
At National Review, where Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and Herman Cain, the populist poseurs of the last election cycle, were treated with as much respect as contempt, the rise of Donald Trump has been met with a mix of horror and open disdain.“I truly, honestly, and with all my heart and mind think Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters are making a yuuuuuuge mistake. I think they are being conned and played,” Jonah Goldberg, the author of Liberal Fascism,wrote. “I feel like a guy whose brother is being taken advantage of by a grifter. I’m watching helplessly as the con artist congratulates him for taking out a third mortgage.”
Other National Review writers concurred. “Donald Trump has been a conservative for about ten minutes,” Jim Geraghty wrote. Ramesh Ponnuru noted Trump’s bygone support for legal late-term abortion. Rich Lowry, who wrote an ill-considered Politico column using Trump’s remarks as if they were a good peg to persuade people to cut back on legal immigration, has criticized him for failing to adequately learn about the subject matter he is discussing, calling some of his remarks on immigration “completely absurd.”
It seems that Trump is the answer only if the question is: Why can’t we get more oafish egomaniacs into politics? Just when the Republican party needs finesse and sensitivity when discussing immigration; just when it needs to focus on issues that unite all sectors of the electorate, including Hispanic and Asian voters; it gets a blowhard with all the nuance of a grenade.
And even that biting criticism cannot compete with the derisive takedowns of Kevin Williamson, who has recently published the following remarks about The Donald:
“Donald Trump may be the man America needs. Having been through four bankruptcies, the ridiculous buffoon with the worst taste since Caligula is uniquely positioned to lead the most indebted organization in the history of the human race.”
“...the self-made man who started with nothing but a modest portfolio of 27,000 New York City properties acquired by his millionaire slumlord father, barely out of his latest bankruptcy and possibly headed for another one as the casino/jiggle-joint bearing his name sinks into the filthy mire of the one U.S. city that makes Las Vegas look respectable, a reality-television grotesque with his plastic-surgery-disaster wife, grunting like a baboon about our country’s ‘brand’...”
“His announcement speech was like Finnegans Wake as reimagined by an unlettered person with a short attention span.”
“The value of speaking one’s mind depends heavily on the mind in question, and Trump’s is second-rate.”
“Trump’s performance-art character is butch in the sense that certain gay icons are butch — bikers, cowboys, and the rest of the Village People — and appealing to certain men for similar reasons, one of which is overcompensation for threats against their virility.”
“The problem with messiah complexes is that there’s no way to know whether you are going to rise on the third day unless somebody crucifies you. Trump has announced, and I say we get started on that.”
Amid those zings, Williamson also astutely observed that Trump “brings out two of the Right’s worst tendencies: the inability to distinguish between entertainers and political leaders, and the habit of treating politics as an exercise in emotional vindication.”
That brings us to the influential conservatives who are falling for Trump as he aggrandizes himself at the expense of the Republican Party’s image and electoral prospects. Most important is Rush Limbaugh, the most popular conservative talk radio host:
Here he is signing onto a caller’s theory that Trump is succeeding for the same reasons that the Rush Limbaugh show has succeeded (a different version of the theory has merit!):
When this program started, people did react to it in a way that indicated they were being validated. The media when this program started criticized it by saying I was a Svengali and you're a bunch of mind-numbed robots, and you were brain dead until I came along. I started telling you what to think and how to think because you didn't have the ability. And it's totally wrong. What really happened was you didn't have anybody else.
There wasn't anybody in national media saying things that you believe and in ways that you would say them. And that's what I did. I came along and I validated what people already believed. There were no mind-numbed robots. He's saying Trump is doing the same thing. Trump is articulating what a vast majority of people think about what's going on here with amnesty and illegal immigration that nobody else says. Either they don't have the guts to say it or they don't believe it or what have you.
His question is, "How long is Trump going to hold out? How long is Trump going to go?" He says, "It would be great if Trump had half the life you had on radio." But Trump is doing more than that. In addition to articulating those things. Trump is actually taking the media on. He's going to every one of these Drive-By Media places and he's throwing it right back in their faces, all the conventional wisdom that they're hitting him with and all the conventional wisdom that is wrong. He's just nuking it right back at them.
Sarah Palin, whose writing is similar to her extemporaneous speech, is another notable Trump supporter—she posted the following message to her Facebook page, reiterating her belief that if someone is criticized in the media they must be tops:
Mr. Trump should know he's doing something right when the malcontents go ballistic in the press! There is no denying Donald J. Trump's accomplishments and drive to create opportunity for every willing American to succeed. His own success is testament to the job-creating achievements made possible when one applies the courageous and tenacious pro-private sector precepts we need to fire up the economy. Trump joins a competitive field of GOP candidates that will duke it out in the arena of ideas and track records, a field representing diverse achievements. This, in contrast with the pro-big government party's practice of merely anointing a chosen one, thus robbing voters of healthy debate.
Key to conservative's victory is to do our own vetting of each candidate, focus on their ability to unleash America's entrepreneurial spirit and dramatically shrink government in order to prioritize our nation's security. That means we ignore the media's participation in the liberals' Pantsuit Politics of Personal Destruction. THEN, on an even playing field, in 2016 we charge forward after the radical left hears America shout, "You're fired!"
And the Breitbart websites are also notable for the favorable coverage they’ve given Trump:
Back in 1988, reviewing Donald Trump’s first bestseller, The Art of the Deal, Janet Scott Barlow wrote, “He is a staggeringly unique individual who is also a regular guy, a one-of-a-kind business colossus who proves his humanity by inviting anyone––everyone––to be impressed by him. It is a dual message of egomania and condescension that could be taken seriously only by compulsive role players with time on their hands.”
Now that Trump is polling at the top of the GOP field, all those conservatives who have in the past treated Limbaugh, Palin, Breitbart.com, and their ilk as credible voices who look out for the best interests of the conservative base are partly responsible for his rise.
They’ve helped to create a comical celebrity monster.