“OK,” says the professor. “Who can tell me what makes for successful political campaigns?”
“High name recognition and ample funds,” call out an enthusiastic chorus of students. “A strong reason for running can help,” a few add. “But, absent the other components how would they establish their ‘brand’?” they ask.
For more than a month it appeared as if Donald Trump would add a fourth component to the list: unmitigated gall, seasoned with proper amounts of vulgarity and ghoulishness. But not so fast. To paraphrase how another member of a club we will call “the rich, the famous, and the fallen,” featured in this space last week, might put it, “times could be a changin.”
Trump had been hinting at a possible presidential run since last fall. Speculation and suspense about him mounted this winter when he purportedly strut his stuff at the annual gathering of young conservatives at CPAC. Without spending a dime of the fortune we keep hearing about, Trump then took to the airwaves 24/7. (The pros call this “free” or “earned” media.) [Vote now: Will Trump seriously run for president?]
Trump has been hyping one of the greatest variety acts ever seen on television news.(Consider the lines between news and entertainment further blurred.) Trump claims to seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination and maintains that his Republican credentials are in good standing. Never mind that has a long history of backing Democrats. Just this year, he contributed handsomely to the campaign of new Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Trump apparently hopes he can blackmail the GOP into nominating him. Before the first caucus or primary vote is even close, he publicly muses about running for president on a third party ticket. (Wearing an expression of feigned regret, he protests that such a move might re-elect Obama.)
Thus far, Trump has used his celebrity status not to advance ideas, but to cast a spotlight on the so-called “birther issue.” He claims to have sent investigators to scout about Hawaii for evidence that Obama was not born there. He said that his team “could not believe what they had turned up.” Who are these investigators? What they found? And when he would make their findings public? No one pressed him on Trump on any of this until George Stephanopoulos had the gumption to ask him. Trump barked back that is was “none” of his interrogator’s “business.” Really?
Until that moment, the media allowed Trump to pedal his wares in the fashion of the late Sen. Joe McCarthy, would tell audience that he had “in his hand” a list of 2,000 communists on the payroll of the U.S. State Department--or of Robert Welch insisting that Ike was a communist. (By the way, has anyone seen Ike’s birth certificate?) Seeking to pre-empt investigations into his own dealings, while seeming to strike a blow for transparency, Trump offered the following bargain: He would make public his tax returns if Obama produced his birth certificate. (One can envision Obama shaking in his boots.) [Vote now: Is Trump's birtherism just a stunt?]
Having ridden the birther wave as far as it might take him, Trump assured a Tea Party gathering in southern Florida that he was a true conservative, had credentials to be president, and that he's not a politician. He did not tell them that the real estate empire he heads acquired its influence not through the workings of the free market, but from its closeness to the Tammany Hall Clubhouse that ran Brooklyn when “The Donald” was coming up. In the New York City under Mayor Abe Beame, under whose aegis New York City came to the verge of defaulting on its obligations, the name “Trump” was as synonymous with “power broker.”
And speaking of bankruptcy, Trump, the born again deficit hawk, was not asked until this week about his making full use of the protections of “Chapter 11.” Listening to him claim that he never went bankrupt, but made full use of bankruptcy laws, was reminiscent of Bill Clinton lecturing the nation on the meaning of the word “is.” When will someone ask him why a person who, by his own admission, reinvigorated companies he acquired by repudiating their debts, should be placed in charge of the credit of the largest economy in the world?
In search of still another constituency, the thrice married, "pro-choice” nonpolitician now turned “pro-life” newly minted conservative was said to be interviewing organizers for the “religious right” such as Ralph Reed (formerly of the Christian Coalition) and Tony Perkins (of the Family Research Council) to manage his campaign. That should prove interesting in Iowa, where Mitt Romney is not selling and where Newt Gingrich, in an attempt to court religious conservatives, cited patriotism as a factor that contributed to serial marital infidelities. Trump should be a hit on morning radio call-ins.
The media’s role as Trump’s accomplice airing one of the biggest farces of all time has been nothing short of shameless. Some suggest that Trump has, up to now, been spared the kind electronic “frisking” reserved for potential presidents, because they suspect him to abandon his yet-to-be-launched campaign once he has signed the contract to renew his television show, The Apprentice. That very possibility should raise but another question. Why, if that is what they think, would NBC’s competitors allow themselves to become part yet another of Trump’s conspiracies, one that has the entire dial engaged in building audiences for a rival network? That is a question to be asked of students studying communications come September.
Corrected on : Corrected on 4/21/11: An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly spelled Rahm Emanuel's name.