Tapes released by the New York Times of an editorial board meeting held with presidential contender Donald Trump revealed the Republican frontrunner to be a thoughtful, erudite communicator whose positions on a range of issues — from immigration to foreign policy to economic reforms — were as nuanced as they were breathtakingly new. Mr. Trump demonstrated a deep and fulsome understanding of complex topics, constitutional law cases, foreign leaders and their motivations and economic principles, and proposed policies that had many at the table shocked — the ideas he suggested were steeped in conservative values yet stunningly appealing. At the end of the session, however, Trump softly asked, “This won’t go public, right? My followers like the broad stroke messages that fire them up. Don’t want them thinking I’m some sissy-pants intellectual.” Attendees in the room say Trump winked as he made this comment.
But I wrote that little fake news graf to demonstrate something. That is, what I believe many of his more intellectual supporters believe — that underneath all his bluster and publicity-seeking rhetoric, there’s actual substance that he hides from the American public as he seeks their votes.
We all know Trump supporters, don’t we? And the ones I know are not knuckle-dragging cretins who blindly follow leaders spouting slogans they like. The ones I know are thinkers. They hold true conservative values. They really do want to make America great again.
So, how did they get hoodwinked by this flimflam artist? I think they’ve heard the slogans, seen the finger in the eye that Trump pokes at the media and political correctness, and they’ve been seduced into thinking there is real substance beneath all the showmanship.
I don’t blame them for being attracted to showmanship — after two presidential runs by candidates who might have had intellectual and policy heft but who lacked dazzle, the GOP is hungry for someone who can be the major domo of a conservative values show.
But here’s the problem, Trump supporters: Trump is all showmanship. All. No substance. He’s the sizzle without the steak. He doesn’t seem interested in educating himself to even the minutest level of understanding. Consider his recent answer on whether women seeking abortions should face punishment (first response: yes). It was so thoughtless, so reckless, so pandering that he managed to unite both pro-life and pro-choice supporters in condemnation of him.
But he’s succeeded in business, his supporters will point out. He couldn’t have done that if he were nothing more than a hollow huckster, right?
Do I really need to answer that question? Business history is filled with tales of con artists and Humpty-Dumptys whose Enron-like falls were shocking for all the same reasons Trump’s will be, too, if he’s knocked down a few pegs in the presidential climb. When someone presents a confident sales pitch to the public, even smart people believe. Until it’s overwhelmingly clear the pitcher is a scammer.
Okay, his supporters might argue, but showman Donald will just surround himself with bright advisers to make up for his lack of knowledge on important topics.
If that’s what you think, I have two words for you: Corey Lewandowski. If he’s the kind of fellow Trump relies on for help, watch out.
Sorry, Trump supporters. If Donald Trump manages to get to the White House (God forbid), the April Fool’s joke will be on all of us, and it will last far more than one day.
Libby Sternberg is a novelist.