I have to eat just a smidge of crow here when it comes to Donald Trump's campaign for the White House. When he announced that he was running for president, I guessed that Trump – his verbal commitment to the race notwithstanding – was just running another con to get his name in the headlines while not actually really running for president. At the time, he hadn’t filed any paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, and it seemed reasonable to me that Trump would just play-act at campaigning for as long as he could plausibly put off his obligations to the FEC, then he would “drop out” and go back to his weird, cartoonish existence.
Well, Trump surprised me. He actually filed a statement of candidacy with the FEC. Of course, there’s also the matter of his financial disclosures, which are still outstanding and are far trickier for Trump, given that they could reveal some embarrassing truths about the personal wealth of which he so often boasts. But he did go a step further than I expected him to.
Everything else about Trump 2016, however, is proceeding exactly in accordance with expectations. It’s already shaping up to be the self-aggrandizing stunt that it was always going to be, and it’s already causing Republicans some embarrassment as Trump has leapfrogged over serious candidates in early primary states.
A new poll out of New Hampshire put Trump at second place in the state, trailing front-runner Jeb Bush by just a few percentage points. Obviously this poll doesn’t mean Trump stands any chance of winning New Hampshire, though it and others like it will live on long after Trump drops out and he cites them on cable news as proof of how terrific and well-loved he is. The main significance of the Trump bump is what it says about the Republican primary electorate.
There’s a tendency among voters to confuse “rich” with “good at business,” and “good at business” with “capable of managing the largest economy in the world.” This confusion is at the heart of the Trump brand, which is based on relentless, soul-withering self-promotion of Donald Trump: super-rich business genius. As Matthew Cooper notes at Newsweek, that image holds a certain appeal for the white working-class voters who’ve decamped to the Republican Party as manufacturing jobs have disappeared or moved overseas. If you’re an unemployed factory worker who’s frustrated over outsourcing and a persistent lack of economic opportunity, the big glitzy doofus who makes grandiose promises about his job-creating abilities (and who promises to punish China and Mexico) might not seem so outrageous at first glance.
It’s those first glances that are giving Trump his surge. Once the novelty wears off or Trump inevitably says something irretrievably stupid, people will remember why they hate him and his numbers will crash back down to where they belong. Despite his relatively high numbers in New Hampshire, he’s still “the most disliked candidate in the entire race,” and his national numbers aren’t especially strong (though they may be good enough to get him onto the stage for the first GOP debate, which would be a disaster for Republicans).
Trump’s already working hard to dispel any concerns people might have that he’s taking this seriously. Yesterday he turned his campaign into a flagrant vehicle for promoting his business interests. Trump exploited his recent political celebrity as a marketing tool, presiding over the grand opening of a golf course in Virginia that bears his name. He held a press conference at the course and weighed in on South Carolina’s Confederate flag controversy. “I think they should put it in a museum and respect whatever it is you have to respect,” he said, semi-coherently.
A few reporters tagged along with Trump as he toured the course, and he offered up this assessment of his relationship with the Latino community:
That’s a bit of a throwback to 2011, when Trump, in the midst of a fake presidential run, boasted: “I have a great relationship with the blacks.” Apparently Trump’s appeal knows no demographic limit. But as Trump was expounding on his wonderful relationship with Latinos, Univision’s Jorge Ramos – easily the most influential personality in Spanish-language news – wrote a column flensing Trump for the fantastically bigoted remarks he made about Mexicans in his announcement speech.
Anyway, we’ve probably not seen the Trump 2016 wave crest quite yet, so things will likely only get dumber as the summer drags on. The way Trump operates guarantees that this will build to a dramatic and embarrassing finish, so just sit tight and we’ll ride this out together, laughing.