Donald Trump’s penchant for self-promotion and exaggeration is an amusing distraction in what should be a serious campaign populated by (some) serious candidates. But there’s reason for concern that it’s catching.
Witness the behavior of Jane L. Corwin, the GOP candidate to replace Buffalo-area former Rep. Chris Lee, who resigned after a woman revealed that Lee had flirted with her on an Internet site and sent a shirtless photo of himself to her (after she indicated she wanted to make sure he wasn’t a "toad"). Corwin, on paper, would seem to be in decent campaign shape: She’s an assemblywoman and a Republican in a GOP district. Her Democratic opponent is also female, removing any gender bias issue one way or the other with the electorate.
But Corwin Trump-eted her own accomplishments in a way that is just comical. According to an excellent, well-researched, and nicely-written piece in the Buffalo News, Corwin has repeatedly described herself in campaign literature as having "spent 36 years as a successful businesswoman" before getting elected to the state Assembly in 2008. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on 2012 GOP candidates.]
The trouble is, Corwin was just 44 when she was elected to state government, meaning that her tenure as a "successful businesswoman" would have had to begin at age 8.
Was it a paper route? No—you have to be 12 to deliver papers in the area (though I can personally attest, as a former Buffalo newspaper carrier, that it is a real sweatshop job, paradoxically made worse by the fact that one has to do it in two feet of snow). Was she channeling Lucy Van Pelt, delivering roadside advice for 5 cents?
No, Corwin was talking about how she helped out her family business when she was still a kid—and remarkably, Corwin continued to defend her characterization of her work history when she talked to the News.
Corwin said she delivered the Talking Phone Book when she was just a child and helped proofread it when she was a teenager. As an adult, she worked as an executive in the family-run business. "Every level of work is an important part of the company, so I don't discount that," she told the newspaper.
The remarkable thing—aside from her insistence that she accurately detailed her professional accomplishments—is that she had no reason to do so. What is wrong with saying, "I began helping out in the family business when I was just a kid, and it helped me develop a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility"? That is not only laudable, but not incidentally, a very Buffalo thing to do and to value. After that, she could have said, "I raised three kids while working—sometimes from home—to sustain and build a local, family-owned business, the kind that keeps struggling communities like Buffalo going." That would have resonated with voters in upstate New York, and probably with working mothers as well. [See who donates the most to your member of Congress.]
Now, Corwin is hardly at Trump level here—she doesn’t lecture reporters about how brilliant she is, and she hasn’t started a whole new subsidiary business of demanding documents from the president of the United States. Trump can’t just revel in the strange assumption held by many American voters that if one is wealthy, one must surely be brilliant. So he defends his demands for President Obama’s school records thusly to ABC:
Let me tell you, I’m a really smart guy. I was a really good student at the best school in the country. The reason I have a little doubt, just a little, is because he grew up and nobody knew him
Additionally, Salon.com reports, Trump—by omission, at least—has exaggerated his own academic record. Trump commonly talks about how he went to Wharton, and that’s true. But he didn’t get an MBA from the business school; he went to Wharton as an undergraduate, after transferring from Fordham. Some news report said Trump graduated first in his class, a suspect claim Salon.com notes Trump did not challenge (though the report also notes that Trump has said he never made that claim personally).
The Internet has been a boon for birthers and others who want to spread malicious and unsubstantiated rumors about their opponents or about legislation they don’t like. But the Internet rumor-mongers should remember that the technology works both ways: If you make a claim, people will check it. And it’s easier to do, now. Candidates should run on their true records and personal histories, not a Trumped-up version.