How 'Caddyshack' Explains the Presidential Race

A brash, rich lout crashes the party—and becomes an instant crowd favorite.

David Moir / Reuters

During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney was repeatedly dogged by negative stories about his personal wealth. There was the car elevator. There was Cookiegate. Four years earlier, John McCain—hardly anyone’s idea of a typical plutocrat—got hammered for not being able to remember how many houses he owned. It was an issue for Steve Forbes before him and for George H. W. Bush before him. Republicans are already trying to use the many millions accumulated during Bill Clinton’s post-presidency as a cudgel against Hillary. Although it’s true that great wealth confers considerable advantages in politics, in terms of optics, it can also prove a meaningful handicap.

Except when it doesn’t. Donald Trump is richer than any of the aforementioned candidates, and his wealth, far from being a handicap, is a central rationale for his campaign. It’s what proves (in theory) that he knows what he’s doing. It’s what proves that he’s not a “loser,” like—well, pretty much anyone Trump is inclined to put down. (Can you imagine if Romney had slung that word around so recklessly?)

There’s a reason that Trump’s wealth is not an issue for him, and that reason can be summed up in a single word—as it happens, the title of a single Harold Ramis comedy: Caddyshack.

Pretty much everyone in America would like to have more money, obviously. What they don’t want is to think that wealth would fundamentally change who they are. This is a basic democratic credo. Most Americans don’t want to be rich so that they can develop a taste for fancy French cuisine to be enjoyed over polite repartee with their fellow snobs at the country club. They want to be rich so they can do whatever they want and never have to take crap from anyone. They don’t want to be Judge Smails, in other words; they want to be Rodney Dangerfield. (Yes, technically Al Czervik, though the character is essentially an extension of Dangerfield’s longstanding persona.)

That’s where Trump comes in. Leave aside the ugly nativism, and he’s basically a real-life Czervik: rich, yes, but an aggressive anti-snob who says whatever the hell he pleases and misses no opportunity to stick it to the establishment. The GOP is Bushwood Country Club (Bushwood!) and Trump the obnoxious interloper who, owing to his wealth, can’t be tastefully ignored. (Jeb Bush is the closest obvious parallel for Judge Smails, given the name and how resolutely Trump has set out to harass him; readers can decide for themselves who fit best as Ty Webb, Carl Spackler, and the gopher.)

Indeed, one line of Czervik’s, in which he’s dissing Bushwood to Judge Smails, seems a remarkably apt metaphor for Trump’s evident view of the Republican Party as presently constituted: “This whole place sucks. That's right, sucks. Only reason I'm here is maybe I'll buy it.”

Some of Czervik’s greatest hits—including that line—can be found in the YouTube compilation below: