May 26, 2016.
Look. You can’t go by me. All last summer I thought the Donald would fade over the course of the fall as the primaries drew closer and voters started paying serious attention. And I didn’t think it would be because he’d finally go too far and people would turn away from him in disgust. I thought he’d start boring people the way he bored me. Shows you what I know. Still…
I think Trump has a great, glaring weakness.
Ok. He has many. But so far they’ve been difficult to exploit. But there’s one I’m counting on to do him some serious damage.
I’m not talking about himself as a racist demagogue hurting himself and his campaign with his abhorrent political views or his appalling lack of shame and sense of responsibility or his shocking ignorance or his gobsmacking dishonesty or his general depravity.
Obviously and depressingly, none of that has hurt him. At least not as much as it should have.
I’m talking about himself as his own favorite audience.
Trump is a clown. That’s one of his strengths and talents. For a good part of this presidential election season, folks on Liberal Twitter and what’s left of the liberal blogosphere cracked themselves up calling the Republican field of candidates the clown car. The joke---as if I need to explain it---was in there being so many of them it seemed they just kept tumbling into the political ring like clowns out of a tiny car in a circus ring with the not the least bit subtle implication that the candidates were clowns and the GOP primaries a circus. And most of those candidates were clowns. Unwitting fools bumbling about the campaign trail, inadvertently getting in their own and each other’s way, taking metaphorical pies in the face and squirts of water from the flowers in their own buttonholes, making themselves laughingstocks in the eyes of voters, and one after the other pratfalling off the stage. Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, clowns one and all. Jeb Bush wasn’t a clown, but in that company he couldn’t help appearing just as clownish. Of course he had help there. From the chief clown.
But Trump was a different sort of clown. He was the clown who saw the joke and was able to sidestep the banana peels while getting the clowns in line behind him to step right on it and slip and fall on their behinds with loud honking of car horns and waa waa waa-ing from the trombones in the band and then look straight at the audience and lead them in the laughter.
Trump is a clown by design and with purpose. He clowns to show he’s in on the joke and to make a joke of the whole process. He clowns to bait his opponents into making fools of themselves in response. He clowns to distract the media from what he’s really up to, knowing they’ll report on the success of the act and not what he’s actually saying. He clowns to show he’s not taking himself or the election or politics seriously, which is, of course, just what the media want to hear because it’s what they believe, that it’s not a serious business, that nothing important’s at stake, that all politicians who aren’t knaves are fools and most of them are both so there’s no need to waste time on the work necessary to understand policy, they can sit back and enjoy writing about how they’re enjoying the show. He clowns to let his fans know that none of it matters, that it’s all fun and games, that he’s letting them in on the joke, that they’re right to be cynical and distrusting of the supposedly smart and successful people who run the show and make them feel like fools and suckers in the process, that’s he’s making those supposedly smart and successful people look like the real fools and suckers.
He clowns because he’s good at it and it works.
The history of American politics is rife with examples of successful politicians who clowned their way into and through office. Huey Long being a prime example. Prohibition-era Chicago mayor Big Bill Thompson being another. Thompson, about as corrupt as a corrupt pol can be, once staged a “debate” with a pair of caged rats he named after two of his political rivals. Even some good guys have been clowns or had a touch of the clown about them. Fiorello LaGuardia, for example. For that matter, FDR wasn’t above a bit of clowning when the mischief got in him and he felt the situation called for it. Bill Clinton could do it too. Politics is a performance art. Good leaders have to entertain and amuse as well as engage and inspire. Trump entertains and amuses as a means of engaging and inspiring by clowning. Of course, what he inspires is anger, resentment, envy, and hate. But that doesn’t change the fact that his clowning has been a key to his success.
His weakness isn’t that he’s a clown.
His weakness is he’s a self-infatuated clown.
He loves his own act. He can’t get enough of himself. And he loves that other people love the act too. He loves the laughter and applause because they confirm him in his own high self-regard. So he can’t resist playing to his audience, repeating the same jokes and patter over and over in order to elicit the same laughter and applause. The only way he can bring himself to vary the act is by trying to top himself. He has to take things further and farther, piling up the laughs, getting the crowd roaring, bringing down the house. But in the end all he’s doing is repeating the same tried and true shtick to an audience who’s already proved they can’t get enough of the same old same old.. And he’s happy with that. He’s glad to stop there. He doesn’t take the risks necessary to winning over new fans. All he dares do is try to make his current fans laugh longer and clap louder.
This means he’s limiting his appeal to people who are already committed to voting for him and to other Republicans who are coming around because, after all, that’s all he is in political reality---just another Republican.
Many people getting a kick out of how Elizabeth Warren’s been needling him on Twitter think she’s doing a good job of getting under his skin. I’m not so sure. And I’m not sure getting under his skin is the object. From what I’ve seen of their exchanges, I think what she’s been doing is goading him into repeating himself. He thinks he’s getting the better of her. His fans agree. They’re laughing and clapping and cheering and crying for more. And he’s giving it to them. He can’t help himself.
This means he can’t make the presidential pivot.
The political press has been expecting him to make the pivot. They’ve been predicting he’ll make it any time now. They’re not so secretly begging him to make it. They need him to start acting and sounding like a “normal” Republican candidate for President---and keep in mind the political press still believes the GOP is the party of responsible, grown-up moderates and a “normal” Republican is a center-rightists whose only real concern is keeping rich people’s taxes low, as if that’s not such a bad thing---they need him to act and sound “presidential” in order to give them an excuse to cover him as if he is. Sure, they love the clown act because it’s ratings and clickbaiting gold. But they also know it’s offensive, despicable, and disgusting and may cost him the election. I don’t think the press on the whole wants him to win. What they want is for him not to blow it too soon. They want it to be a horserace to the very end. They don’t want him falling down at the first turn. They want to be able to cover the campaign in a way that allows them to treat both him and Hillary as the same. They want to be able to criticize her without it looking trivial and fatuous in comparison to all the things they should be criticizing him for.
“Donald Trump insults and tries to bully the governor of New Mexico, but Clinton mishandled those emails!”
But that’s what he did. He went to New Mexico and insulted Susana Martinez, the first Latina governor in the United States, a Republican, who in a better world, the one the press corps imagines they’re living in, where actual moderate grown-ups run the GOP, wouldn’t just be on the short-list for Vice-President, she’d be making up her own short-list.
Imagine that. There’s an alternative universe in which both parties are running a smart, highly competent, responsible, grown-up woman for president.
But back here on Earth-One…
The “presidential” thing would have been to do what he could to have Martinez up on the stage with him. The “presidential” thing to do would not have given Hispanics even more reason to turn out to vote against him. The “presidential” thing to do would have been to at least keep his mouth shut about her. But that’s not the Donald thing to do.
The Donald thing is to clown. He gets up there and in her own state belittles her. He insults every woman and Hispanic while he’s at it. For good measure, he repeats his Pocahontas line about Elizabeth Warren---in a state with one of the largest Native American populations in the country. He couldn’t stop himself. He knew his fans would love it and that he would love their loving it. And they did, and he did.
But it’s costing him and it will cost him. His fans love it and rally around. But he’s already got their votes. The people whose votes he doesn’t have, though, will become even more determined not to let him have them. So far it appears the latter outnumber the former by just enough.
I think the latter will grown while the former will stay about the same.
I’m not predicting anything. Like I said up top. You can’t go by me. This is just what I think, and probably it’s more just what I hope.
The race will likely be too close for comfort. (The media will do what they can to make it seem even closer.) Some decent and principled Republicans will defect or at least stay home, but most, the great majority will vote for him, no matter how they feel, because he’s the Republican nominee, just the same as I believe we Democrats would vote for our own lunatic, malevolent clown if we happened to lose our collective mind and nominate one. It’s the case with all partisans: Our lunatic, malevolent clown is better than your lunatic, malevolent clown. It’s the case at the present moment that no lunatic, malevolent clowns are likely to get anywhere as a Democrat (Which may explain why Trump the one-time Democrat is running as a Republican. Before he’s anything, the Donald’s an opportunist and his best opportunity was to run as a lunatic, malevolent clown in a party that’s chock full of them and seems unable to get enough of them.) and even if one popped up and did, he or she could be stopped. That’s another reason we have superdelegates, folks.
But if one did and couldn’t be stopped, human beings being what they are, it wouldn’t be long before we started seeing him or her as not as much the clown as we first thought. In fact, not really a clown or a lunatic or malevolent at all. At least not in comparison to their clown.
We have a tendency to like in our friends and champions what we despise in our enemies and foes. And that’s what’s happening with the majority of Republicans. They’re learning to love clown act.
So Republicans will vote Republican. Democrats will vote Democrats. “Independents” who usually vote Democratic will do it again, just as the “Independents” who usually vote Republican will vote that way again. There’ll be some cross-over both ways. There always is. Probably nowhere near enough to matter. And the election will come down to which side does the better job of getting their vote out, with maybe the “undecideds” making the difference. The undecideds being people who don’t have any idea what it takes to be president of the United States and may not realize that being a lunatic, malevolent clown is a serious disqualification or that that’s what Donald Trump is; people who think it doesn’t matter who’s president, they’re all clowns, so why not vote for the funniest one; and people who have an idea of what makes a good president that doesn’t match up with the idea most Americans have or even think that being a lunatic, malevolent clown is a necessary part of the job description. We’ll find out soon enough.
In the meantime, the clown show will go on. There’ll be more Whitewater and Monica. More taunting and bullying of recalcitrant Republican politicians and journalists who r.efuse to dance to his tune. More juvenile name-calling. More stupid nicknaming. More displays of a grade-school playground level of wit. More lying. More shamelessness. More irresponsibility.
More sexism. More racism. More bigotry. More anger. More hate. All played for cheap laughs from easy applause.
It’s going to get really boring.
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