We’re in the midst of the Donald Trump presidential boomlet.
It’s not likely to last. Trump isn’t exactly a candidate with a lot of depth so far, and while his message to date is generating a lot of heat it remains to be seen how sticking it to China and bragging about how he has more money than Mitt Romney won’t wear thin before long.
But that having been said, the punditocracy on the Republican side who are busy trashing Trump as a potential candidate and claiming he’s going to do damage to the party’s chances in 2012 have it all wrong. Trump’s boomlet is a good thing for everybody but the man all the players in the GOP race are trying to unseat.
Trump’s main policy proposals are far too thin to carry him into a presidential campaign. A tougher trade posture with the Chinese, his general policy, has some purchase – though his specific threat of a 25 percent punitive tariff on Chinese goods is a threat to jump off an economic cliff. His idea of seizing oil wells in Iraq and Libya is a dangerously stupid one, and totally unnecessary when independent analysis shows that America has more than enough energy resources to make Middle Eastern oil irrelevant to our needs. Most of the rest of his shtick isn’t much better.
But what Trump is doing – what’s sucking all the air out of the room – is his campaign to delegitimize President Obama. It’s that campaign which is working with a large swath of the American people. And it’s that campaign which is getting him more air time than the rest of the field combined.
Is Trump the only prospective candidate taking shots at Obama? Of course not. They’re all sniping at the president, and some of the shots have been very good ones. Romney, for example, laid down a blistering assault on Obama’s performance on Greta Van Susteren’s show last night; it was fact-based, perfectly-delivered, brutal in substance yet professional in tone and as presidential as you’ll see from what was essentially a partisan attack.
But everybody outside of the 35-40 percent of the population who has imbibed the Obama Kool-Aid and will vote for him no matter what he does understands the policy failures of this president. Poll after poll on the issues shows the public thinks the president is clueless – on health care, on foreign policy, on the the budget, on the economy, on energy, on the border.
Under any normal circumstances, you’d see a president at odds with the American people and sitting atop a miserable record of performance to date which gets worse as time goes by and it would be considered a foregone conclusion that he can’t win re-election. There are observers who have reached that conclusion; certainly. But the conventional wisdom hasn’t come around to that point, and it’s not just because the Beltway consensus is driven largely by the in-the-tank-for-Obama crowd.
Why is that? Seems a bit perplexing.
The main reason, I would postulate, is that Obama’s personal popularity continues to hold up to a degree. The American public has bent over backwards in an attempt to like him. The fact he’s the first black president has something to do with that; people don’t want to be called racists, generally, and they don’t want to think of themselves as such. And even without the blistering heat of the Left’s media machine slapping that moniker down on any and all critics of the president there is a reserve of goodwill toward him. People had enough hatred of a president in the Clinton and Bush 43 years; they’d like to get past that – particularly when Obama isn’t just a president but a successful black man.
Which is all very nice. And but for its superficiality it would have merit. Because of that, we’ve seen a great deal of timidity from the GOP field on Obama. They’ll hack him to pieces on policy, sure – and many of those attacks are useful with people who are persuadables and actually care about policy.
Persuadable voters who care about policy – outside of the primary/base voters, who are looking for a candidate fitting their ideological brand, obviously – are almost a nonexistent group. If you’re talking about independents, that is. Independents like to talk about how their vote is based on policy and principle, but that’s BS. Most independents don’t like politics, pay as little attention to it as they can get away with, think all politicians are full of it and ultimately vote on something stupid like how the candidate looks or whether his commercials were cool. They voted for Obama for that reason; compared to the snoozy, dopey John McCain Obama looked like Superman.
To get the non-news-junkie voters out there, you have to control the narrative about Obama. You have to steal the air from the room. And while Romney, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty and whoever else is thinking about running have struggled to do that Trump immediately figured out how to do it.
Go to the core.
What Trump has done is thrown in with the birthers. Every other candidate runs from them hair-on-fire style, but Trump opened the door and invited them in, and in doing so he picked up an instant constituency.
But you can’t win on the birther thing, goes the conventional wisdom.
That depends on what you define as “the birther thing.” Because if all “birtherism” entails is whether Obama was born in Hawaii, that’s probably true. Obama probably was born in Hawaii. But Trump has attacked this issue anyway, and while most of what he’s said is typical Trump bombast he’s finding some cracks. Like, for example, the fact that Obama won’t release his long-form birth certificate, and the fact that he’s spending millions of dollars on lawyers in keeping it secret – at least according to Trump. It doesn’t hurt his cause that he initially allowed that maybe there is a birth certificate but Obama doesn’t want it out because of what’s on it. Trump isn’t alone in that respect.
The attacks work. They work because Obama keeps dismissing them and because Obama’s surrogates, like Robert DeNiro and Jerry Seinfeld as examples, are acting like asses in attacking Trump for asking “birther” questions. It looks like typical lefty damage control; button things up and send third parties out to savage the messenger personally, Alinsky-style. The American people have seen these tactics over and over and over again, and they’re tired of seeing them. People might like DeNiro and Seinfeld, but when they see Hollywood celebrities getting involved in politics they get turned off. After all, the Hollywood crowd has been slobbering on Obama’s knob since 2007, and the country has gone down the tubes since then. That means nobody is interested in Jerry Seinfeld’s opinion on politics; they’d like him to shut up if he’s not telling jokes. And when Trump turns around and calls DeNiro a dim bulb, not only is it entertaining but it feeds into the common perception of the filthy-rich-uneducated-dumbass-actor-who-ought-to-stick-to-acting. So many Hollywood types have made so many moronic comments about current affairs that the public just groans. When Trump calls DeNiro an idiot, it’s great entertainment even for people who would never vote for him.
But this week Trump is going further. We’re into “Greater Birtherism.” And now that he’s captured some attention we’re starting to get somewhere.
Last night, Trump got into Obama’s educational background…
Here’s Tucker Carlson and Doug Schoen analyzing it…
You can see in Schoen’s response a Democrat dismissal of the issue. Obama’s at the top of his class at Harvard, so it’s ridiculous to ask about his academic record and why should he release his transcripts?
But even Schoen admits that politically, the dismissive posture doesn’t fly. Particularly not with Republican primary voters who look at Obama and see something very fishy about him.
And then you run across something like this, from Ace Of Spades today, where it appears Harvard had an uber-generous affirmative action plan going for its law review, where graduating magna cum laude at Harvard when Obama did meant you were in, say, the top 50 percent of your class and where grade inflation, particularly for black students, could well have been an issue.
There is a belief out there that Obama didn’t really earn his way to the top. I offer as a good example Mickey Kaus, who is a lefty commentator and certainly no right-wing mouth-breather, who two weeks ago wrote this…
The answer is distressingly obvious: Obama’s the biggest affirmative action baby in history. When other pols are trying, failing, learning, while climbing up the middle rungs of the ladder, he got a pass.
Kaus is talking about Obama’s political career, but the sentiment is transferable. You’ve got the entire issue of Dreams From My Father, Obama’s first autobiography – the circumstances of which are ridiculously unusual, after all; who gets a $125,000 book advance from a publisher for the simple reason he’s the first black president of Harvard Law Review? – which some say, and not unconvincingly, was written by Bill Ayers. You’ve got the issue of who paid for Obama’s tuition at all these pricey schools.
All of this is stuff the legacy media scoffed at in 2008. The McCain campaign, in utter and total incompetence and cowardice, failed to use it to any advantage.
And now, it’s obvious Obama isn’t qualified to be president. He’s an empty suit, he can’t govern, he has no answers for the mounting, insurmountable problems the country has.
People are going to begin asking, if they haven’t already, how in this day and age of information hyperavailability somebody this bad could become president. How is it all these questions are unanswered? How can a politician get elected president without being vetted?
Trump is the guy asking these questions. You’ll notice nobody from the Obama administration is endeavoring to answer them. Sure, the birther thing was probably easy to brush off given the media’s insistence that there’s nothing there, that Obama was born in Hawaii, that’s it. But like I said above, there’s “greater birtherism.” There’s Obama’s academic records. There’s his employment record at the University of Chicago. There’s his family background – Bill Whittle is doing a great series on that right now, and here’s the first part of it…
If all this stuff was widely known, Obama wouldn’t have been elected. There is a strong sense among the American people that it was a major mistake to elect this guy – better than half the folks out there consistently say they won’t vote to re-elect him. And there will be lots of questions about how this could have happened. Lefties scream bloody murder when conservatives call Obama a socialist, but on the other hand it isn’t just conservatives who look at the Left and see them as a bunch of socialists. With good reason. As Whittle shows, using information that is out there for all to see – most of it’s in Obama’s own book, after all – the guy is basically a Red Diaper Baby, brought up in circumstances that few of us can really identify with. How is he supposed to defend the culture and institutions we hold dear as president?
Lots of questions. But not many answers. Because the response to all this is, once again, the race card.
What has become clear during Donald Trump’s media-blitz-of-a-non-campaign-campaign is that too many mainstream journalists are missing the story. The story and the opportunity. The story about what the “birther” issue really is all about, and the opportunity to live up to media responsibility in helping people make enlightened decisions about the answer that increasingly is becoming apparent: the “birther” issue is about race.
The race card doesn’t work anymore. The race card pisses people off. While Democrats keep babbling about the race card to a public which elected an unqualified, bad president largely due to the fact he was of African descent (and if you don’t believe that then explain what the fundamental difference was between Obama and Howard Dean or John Edwards, who were completely unelectable on their best day, other than skin color), most people don’t like it. Remember, 43 percent of the white vote went to Obama in 2008. How many of those people, lots of whom were independents and even Republicans who disagree with the president on all these crucial national issues and don’t want him re-elected anymore as a result, will take kindly to being called racists because they now question that vote?
Playing the race card in response to vetting questions lots of people probably would have expected to have known the answer to by now isn’t going to cut it.
Trump either has stumbled into this, which is entirely possible seeing as though he’s not exactly the most sophisticated candidate in the race, or he figured it out from the start and knew exactly how to gain traction in the race. If it’s the former, then he’s something akin to a Useful Idiot – by a slightly different definition than the one Lenin used. Trump is going to generate a ton of headlines and burn down a good chunk of Obama’s popularity with nonaligned voters, and many of those voters will then adhere to the narrative that this guy in the White House is a con man, a fraud and a liar and he’s ruining the country. But in the process Trump will himself flame out and some other GOP candidate who hasn’t gotten his or her hands dirty with all this birther stuff will be the beneficiary.
But it might actually be the latter. Trump might have looked over the field, realized that he’s got no shot to be nominated based on all the bad moves he’s made (giving money to Rahm Emanuel, etc.) without shaking things up and then recognized the best way to do that is to take Obama down and be seen as the guy who did it with a smart campaign. If in fact that’s what’s going on, we’ll see an entire program of questions like Trump has asked: Why won’t he show his birth certificate? Where are his academic records? Who paid for him to go to Harvard? Who wrote that book? How did he get all these people out of the way so he could get elected state rep and Senator? Who are all these people he’s got around him? And so on. McCain did a pathetic job of asking those questions, and the media wasn’t interested at all in answering them for the public in 2008.
But when Trump asks them, it makes headlines. And it also gets the public thinking about them – there’s an incredible poll out there which says only 38 percent of the public believes Obama was definitely born in America, for example. If he’s the political genius, he leverages that to dismantle the president’s popularity and earn some street cred with the conservatives who would otherwise look at his record and conclude he’s a joke.
My guess is, Trump is more the former. But his rise definitely shows the other candidates that if they want to be the one who benefits after he flames out, they’ll need to copy his style to a large extent. Kyle-Ann Shiver at The American Thinker has it right in her piece today – Trump’s boomlet comes in no small part from the blunt, direct, macho style he’s bringing to the table. He comes off as a jerk, but the country is pissed off. We’re looking for a jerk; our jerk. Whoever is able to pick that up once Trump is gone can win this.
The fact that the elites can’t read the chord Trump is stroking, and the fact they’re treating him as some curiosity or circus freak, just shows how out of touch they are. But that’s nothing new – our elites have been out of touch for years.
UPDATE: This morning, of course, Obama released a long-form birth certificate.
Does this change the game? Frankly, I don’t think it does. At least, not fundamentally.
Because Trump has already moved on to the question about how Obama – who he says he heard was a terrible student at Occidental – got into Columbia and Harvard. The Beltway pharisees are declaring victory for the president and talking about how Trump looks like a dunce now. And they’ve got that wrong once again.
Is Trump going to take a hit for suggesting that Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii? Sure he will. But already today he’s taken credit for the fact that he got Obama to do something he’s spent three years trying not to do. I get results, he can now say, and he’d be right.
Furthermore, now that Obama has released his birth certificate it’s like the dam breaking. How is the administration going to justify withholding all this other stuff now? They coughed up the birth certificate; why not the academic records?
David Axelrod, meanwhile, is now talking about Trump’s previous communications with the White House; namely, that he personally offered to take over the BP spill last year and that he offered to build a $100 million ballroom adjacent to the White House. Have Obama’s people even bothered to mention the name of Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich? Nope. Now they’re calling Trump a carnival barker.
They’ve elevated Trump above the rest of the GOP field. Which is a strategic choice on their part; Trump is the guy Obama wants to run against. But for Trump’s purposes, which mostly include continuing to steal the air out of the room, this is terrific. And if Trump continues with this vetting-after-the-fact project, he’s got tons of material to work with.
What might not be a bad idea as he continues along this line, given his demonstrated excellence in generating earned media, is to ask some policy questions as well. Like on oil, for example. Or on Libya. Or on the financial regulation scheme. Or Net Neutrality. Or the Pigford cases. There are a whole bunch of issues in which the lack of Obama transparency corresponds to the birth certificate saga. And Trump has shown he can goad Obama into answering them – which won’t help the president much, since administration policy on each is patent nonsense.
Look, none of this particularly helps Trump get elected president. But as a Republican candidate he’s the longest of shots in the first place; if Romney is too much of a RINO to be electable Trump is barely even a RINO. His only shot is to be the guy who, like him or not, shakes things up and gets things done. And at the end of the day, this birther thing has proven his bona fides in that regard.
An exit question: as of right now, which one of the GOP candidates do you think would be the biggest draw giving a speech at the Republican Convention in Tampa next year?