Trump! What Was That All About?

donald trump

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When Ross Perot ran for president in 1992, he spent three years preparing his candidacy.  He road-tested his speeches and presentations, all over the country.  He built a network of political supporters, state-by-state and county-by-county. He undertook the huge political task of compliance with 50 different sets of election laws.  He built up a stable of well-regarded, highly-capable policy advisors.  He was, in a word, serious.Donald Trump was never serious. He didn’t bother with any of the political details.  His principle policy “issue” — if it can be called that — was the place of President Obama’s birth.  He had no one around him who knew anything about Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or Syria or Egypt or Russia or the European Union. Although the Peterson Foundation is not far from his office in New York City and is universally regarded as a reservoir of information about and insight into federal deficits and unfunded liabilities, Trump never once graced its doors. He never called anyone there.

He wasn’t, in a word, serious.

Unserious people running for president in serious times go nowhere, which is why Mr. Trump today withdrew his “candidacy” for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. He had no other choice. There was no support for his candidacy in his home state of New York and there was no support for his candidacy anywhere else, either.  Had he run in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, it is likely that Rep. Ron Paul would have crushed him in both states. Rep. Paul is widely expected to get roughly 10% of the vote in both states.

So how did Trump get all that…..attention.  Partly, he filled the void. If you have to fill up a cable network or a website 24/7, Trump was something of a godsend. He was a celebrity, he was outrageous enough, he was potty-mouthed and he was — if you’re into that sort of thing — entertaining. Roll tape, call a few “analysts” and the “packages” did pretty well.  He certainly didn’t hurt cable news ratings.  He helped with website “uniques” and “page views.”

Republicans sort of liked him because he was unafraid of trashing President Obama. That gave him his momentary bump in the polling.  But the more they learned about him, the quicker their appreciation turned to dismissal. By the time of his departure, he was net negative everywhere and losing altitude by the minute.

The White House hope is that Mr. Trump will return next year, re-tooled as an independent candidate for president.  They would very much like him to siphon off GOP/libertarian votes from the GOP’s eventual ticket in the general election.  Specifically, they would like him to run as Perot did in 1996, damaged goods but strong enough to siphon off 7% of the total vote from the GOP. It’s going to be a close race.  Having Trump on the ballot would improve President Obama’s chances of re-election. 

Roger Stone, a longtime GOP consultant who worked for Trump years ago (before the inevitable falling out) opines that this is exactly what Trump will do.

Perhaps.  But the more likely scenario is that he returns to being The Donald, which is how we like him: bombastic, impossible, preposterous and beyond parody — the P.T. Barnum of our age.