There are two competing theories about Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy that may actually dovetail into a single entity. Only time will tell. The first is that he is a troll of the highest order; the other that he is a Democratic mole. A troll is someone who sows discord and attracts attention by any means necessary. Even negative attention is better than no attention. Trump even acknowledged the strategy in his best seller, The Art of the Deal (Personal note: While working for a Trump property one year, that was our Christmas bonus). One can look at the bombast in his announcement and his speeches since: he would be the greatest President ever, America needs Trump more than ever, all the others pale in comparison to him, etc.
Donald Trump is not the first presidential candidate in recent electoral history to be a troll. Newt Gingrich did it in 2012 and Sarah Palin did it in 2008. Where Trump excels and the others failed is that their targets were the Democrats; Trump’s targets are his fellow Republican candidates. Perhaps this is his strategy and why it is getting so much attention this time around- eliminate the opposition first, then go after the Democrat. But, its hard to contemplate that considering Trump has been a vocal and financial supporter of Hillary Clinton in the past and even supported her in 2008. The man has contributed more to One Eye Reid than to any Republican. Hillary sat front and center at his most recent marriage while Bill attended the reception.
There are the general attacks on his Republican counterparts (“they’re career politicians,” “I’m the best man in the race,” etc.) and the personal. He, through social media, has attacked Kasich for the “Making America Great Again,” calling him unoriginal. Likewise, he’s also taken on [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] and Scott Walker for using the same meme (note: he tried to trademark the phrase in 2012, much like the more common “You’re fired!”). Even Carly Fiorina has not escaped his Twitter attacks when he said “she has to carry her own luggage now” after expending her personal wealth on a losing Senate campaign and derogatory references to her termination at Hewlett-Packard. In effect, although behaving like a troll, the more appropriate moniker at this time may be “heckler.”
Before announcing his candidacy, Trump was the epitome of shamelessness by drawing attention to himself through lavish living and the sheer force of his personality. He has preempted the childish attacks on him through self-deprecating humor in remarks about his hair and his orange skin tone. After all, its better to have the masses laugh along with you instead of at you. And try as anyone might, Donald Trump, by being shameless, makes it impossible to embarrass him. Despite the outcry against his remarks about Mexican rapists, McCain’s war record, or Graham’s telephone number, one thing was consistent: there was no need to apologize because Trump, being Trump, plays by his rules. Perhaps that is part of the appeal. By sowing the seeds of discord- attacking Mexican illegal immigrants and taking on the Republican field, the attention is drawn to Donald Trump. To a troll, to his musings in The Art of the Deal, to the man, negative attention is better than no attention.
And let’s look at the fixation on Donald Trump. Statistics show that of the 16 Republicans running for the nomination, Trump has received 46% of the media coverage with Bush being nearest to him at 13%. Since he announced, so has Walker and Kasich yet the media has covered Walker at 8% and Kasich at 2%. As far as the public is concerned, Trump has been getting 62% of the Google hits and Bush being next best at 9%. Walker and Kasich? They get 5% and less than 1% respectively. Clearly, the public is more obsessed with Trump, but as their obsession exists and grows, the media then follows suit because that translates into more Internet hits and higher ratings. Its a self-propagating feedback loop with one beneficiary- Donald Trump.
Usually we see these bumps and bursts in popularity and the polls throughout an election cycle. What makes Trump so interesting is (1) the earliness of it and (2) the number of Republican candidates this time around. Trump is playing like he has 16 opponents, not just Hillary. Yet every poll comes down to Bush, Walker or Rubio in terms of realism. In 2012, Trump himself along with Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich saw similar bumps and the inevitable bursts slightly later than the current phenomena with Trump. What made that year different is that the “trolling” was against the Democrats. Trump has decided to create a second sideshow by going after Republicans also this time around. To some, that is playing to win; to others that is a violation of Reagan’s 11th Commandment. So why is Trump performing so well in the polls at this point?
First, his name recognition alone gains him an advantage. That comes from having your name plastered in ugly red neon on every building you “own” (Note: most of his “real estate holdings” are not owned by Trump, but he licenses his name to them). Or from having a reality television show featuring out of work B and C list personalities. In effect, Trump is appealing to a certain segment of the population- the low information voter. They may know the name Donald Trump, but not know that a Rick Perry was the Governor of Texas during a period of high job growth. They likely don’t know that Rick Perry signed a pro-life bill into law before leaving office and likely do not know that Donald Trump as recently as a few years ago was decidedly “pro-choice” (I use Perry as an example only because he is more highly qualified for the job than Donald Trump).
One supposes that he also taps into a segment fed up with politicians in general. Building a wall along the Rio Grande sounds great, but is harder than one thinks. Long on generalities that taps into voter anger among a segment of the population, Trump is taking advantage of a weakness of the political landscape- the quickie soundbite. People not only look for the soundbites, Trump has nothing to lose. That is why he trumpets the silent majority talk of people who agree with his views as articulated through the soundbites. When we get to the specifics, not so much. And that is another part of his appeal. While the rest of the field is afraid of public relations disasters, Trump plays it bold. For others, they can return to being Governor, lick their wounds and try again in four years. Others can return to the Senate, but for many there is nowhere to go. Trump? He can go back to Trump Towers and live the American Dream in garish opulence. In effect, support for Trump at this juncture is the ultimate protest vote. It is like pulling the lever for the “none of the above” except “none of the above” ever wins an election.
As for the belief that Donald Trump is a Democratic mole, the idea is certainly not new. [mc_name name=’Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’C001107′ ] and columnist George Will have alluded to this among others. One cannot logically ignore the fact that Trump was a Hillary Clinton supporter the better part of her political career, including her 2008 run for President. We can take him at his word that Obama has led him back to the GOP and that he is the best to oppose Hillary in 2016 given her association with Obama. Or, we can look at his history littered with campaign donations to Democratic candidates not only in New York, but in other areas where he had no business dealings. We can look at his positions: in 2000, pro-choice; in 2011- pro-life. As recently as 1999, he proposed a 14.25% tax on wealth to eliminate the national debt (he still believes in this). In 2000, he advocated for hate crime prosecutions for attacks on gays. And the list of flip-flops go on and on. We can give him a pass and assume that he has evolved on these issues, but then you would have to give Rubio a pass on immigration, or Christie a pass on Common Core, or Kasich a pass on Medicaid, and so on. It should also be mentioned that Trump is the only Republican candidate to have flipped the middle finger at God when he said he has never done anything that required God’s forgiveness. Really, Donald? You’re the only human ever without sin?
If one is looking for consistency in policy positions and values from say 2000 to the present, Donald Trump is the picture of inconsistency. If you want consistency good or bad, look to a Cruz or a Fiorina. Hell- [mc_name name=’Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’G000359′ ] is more consistent than Donald Trump.
We will know soon enough whether Trump is a mole or not. Confirmation will come when and if he announces a third party candidacy. Because like Ross Perot in 1992, he will allow Hillary Clinton to waltz into the White House with less than 50% of the vote nationally. In the key battleground states, he will steal votes from the Republican candidate (especially if it is a Bush) and Clinton will take those electoral votes. It would be an electoral vote landslide for Hillary Clinton if not a popular vote consensus.
That is why we should let Trump on the stage at the debates. He may even dominate them with his bombastic remarks and attacks on fellow Republicans. But, Trump is a nomination train wreck waiting to happen. Its best to let him rise to some plateau eventually and maybe along the way some more realistic candidate can tap into that anger that fuels Trump’s popularity in the present polls. If he is a mole, then Curbelo and Will will have the last laugh. If he is a troll, the best thing is not to feed the beast as his haters are currently doing.
Depriving a troll of attention is like taking an antacid for flatulence- eventually it goes away. Overshadowing Trump on the debate stage- even if it is a look or benign ignorance of a Trump statement- will achieve this. Minimize and marginalize and see how viable of a candidate he is without the troll-like tendencies. Yet always remember that in British slang, the word “trump” means “fart.”