In the lead-up to the 2012 presidential race, there has been no greater spectacle than that of Donald Trump‘s quasi-candidacy. Well, so far, anyway. I wish we had elections every year, just so Trump could sorta-kinda-maybe-not-really run. I mean, Sarah Palin is fun and all, but anyone endorsed by Gary Busey is clearly on another level.
Pundits are already deconstructing Trump’s media song-and-dance, a routine that includes a deep commitment to birtherism and some wonderfully daffy foreign policy ideas. It’s pointless to consider any of this as a legitimate policy platform, but it is instructive in terms of what it means for the GOP brand.
Trump is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the publicity department. LA Times reports:
A new Pew Research poll released Wednesday shows the brash billionaire leading the pack of other possible 2012 Republican presidential candidates in regards to public perception. A poll conducted April 14-17 shows that 39 percent of Republicans have heard Trump’s name mentioned more than any other candidate’s.
Crazy or not, Trump easily trounces Mitt Romney’s paltry 12 percent recognition. What this means for the actual 2012 race is still unclear, as hardly anybody in the Republican field has formally announced their candidacy, including The Donald.
But is Trump really even a conservative?
Consider the evidence: Trump has promoted a Canadian-style single-payer health care system, stood for women’s reproductive choice, advocated for a 14.25 percent tax on the rich and contributed to democratic campaigns. Now we’re supposed to believe he’s a small-government crusader who thinks the president faked his birth certificate?
This is either an Andy Kauffman-style stunt, or a deliberate attempt to (further) fuse the mainstream GOP agenda with that of the lunatic fringe. So far, it’s been fun to see who takes the bait: Palin is so desperate for attention that she’ll hitch her wagon to any wacky notion. Romney, on the other hand, has rejected the birther stuff. “I think the citizenship test has been passed,” he says. “There are real reasons to get this guy out of office, but his citizenship isn’t the reason why.”
Republican hatchetman-turned-Fox-bloviator Karl Rove has gone as far as to say that Trump is “discrediting” the Republican party:
“His full embrace of the birther issue means that he’s off there in the nutty right and is now an inconsequential candidate,” Rove says. “I’m shocked, the guy is smarter than this. The idea that President Obama was not born in Hawaii, making that the centerpiece of his campaign, means that he’s just a joke candidate.”
Wow. This is coming from one of the chief architects of George W. Bush‘s “big tent” conservatism, which definitely let in its share of nuts. Is Rove saying that the tent has gotten too big? If so, that’s a remarkable change of heart for one of the most cynical opportunists in American politics.
Rove is right to try and get some air between the GOP and the birthers. If that doesn’t happen soon, the party could find itself permanently marginalized. But I still think he’s missing something. Trump isn’t crazy. Nor is he just a narcissistic celebrity billionaire (although he is that). I’m beginning to think that he’s a highly-placed mole who is working to undermine the Republican party’s shot at the White House.
How hard is it to picture a gentleman’s bet between George Soros and Trump about whether the latter could explode the GOP from within? The only weird thing is that Trump could actually win the Republican nomination. That is, if he actually files as a candidate, which I believe he has absolutely no intention of doing. He doesn’t have to — conservatives are already answering his call to crazy.
Grab the popcorn, kids. This is gonna be a hell of a show.