Trump is America’s conservative zeitgeist in a bad toupee

July, 2015 

Many years ago, I worked at a paper owned by a wealthy industrialist. He was an OK guy but he had this habit that I now associate with very rich people. He was a big conservative and he would come by my desk regularly to argue about the often very liberals things I had written in my column.

And here’s the odd thing. When he was done he would just leave. Middle of a conversation, no “See you later,” or “Thanks for the talk.” He would just leave. Because when you’re rich, you really don’t have to listen to what other people have to say if you don’t want to.

I thought about my previous employer a lot this week as I watched Donald Trump thunder his way around the American political scene. Because like my former boss, Trump is also very rich (as he frequently likes to tell us),  and so he doesn’t have to listen to the growing chorus of boos and catcalls that the Republican political establishment is raining down on him after recent comments about Hispanics and Sen. Jon McCain.

But “enormous” wealth is not the only reason for his popularity, despite what Beltway pundits referred to as his “erroneous steps.” In fact it might be these “errors” that are behind his surge to the top of the Republican presidential sweepstakes, so numerous “you need a calculator to count them all.” In fact you might say Trump has captured the zeitgeist of the time in a bottle, at least the zeitgeist of conservative Republicans who are tired of what they consider namby-pamby, middle-of-the-road, Republican presidential candidates who couldn’t beat that “Kenyan-born, God-and gun-hating, Muslim-loving, freedom-stealing” Barack Obama.

For Trump, the campaign is just an extension of his now-cancelled show “The Apprentice.” (Perhaps this is why the Huffington Post has said it will cover Trump’s campaign as entertainment, not politics.) He is the living personification of the phrase “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.” If you actually listen to what Trump says you easily see why many call him a clown. Almost nothing he says makes sense, and he contradicts himself so often it’s hard to know which of those contradicting statements he really means. (Some comments are just plain laughable, for instance his statement that he’ll win the Hispanic vote despite the fact that he alienated every important Hispanic figure in the country, who can be counted on the campaign against him.)

It’s his presentation of comments that matters: full of bravado, braggadocio and baloney at the top of his lungs. That’s what the red-meat conservatives love. He plays to their base instincts in a way that leaves them saying “That guy’s not afraid to say what needs to be said.”

And the American media love him, of course, because he represents everything that’s important in to them these days: celebrity, stardom, wealth, and beautiful people (except for maybe Trump himself – he just likes to surround himself with beautiful people). He provides endless material with which they can flood their social media accounts. He is, in a way, the conservative answer to Jon Stewart, only nowhere near as smart about anything except building failing casinos, glitzy hotels and golf courses on which the PGA never seems to want to hold tournaments.

His fellow passengers in the GOP clown car (better known as the battle for the Republican presidential nomination) can’t believe what hit them. After months of preparations with their high-paid consultants and carefully planned campaign launches, he has sucked all the oxygen from their room. He dominates the media as though he owns it. (That’s the difference between him and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian multi-billionaire he most resembles. Berlusconi actually owned the media that fawned all over him.)

Some polls show Trump with a double-digit lead over his nearest competitors, which makes them crazy. And he doesn’t have to worry about spending all his time trying to raise money, as he has already said he’ll just spend as much of his own as it takes to win the nomination.

But here’s the thing about Trump. He’s just the flip side of the middle-of-the-road, milquetoast GOP candidate coin. Another candidate who can do well in the Republican primaries, but if actually selected as the party’s presidential nominee, would merely guarantee the party another loss in the 2016 presidential election. The same polls that show Trump so well-regarded among the GOP conservative faithful show him with significantly less support among the general public, almost none among Democrats, and very little with independents.

This might be the reason why some Republican politicians have said that Trump is actually a Democratic plant, a phony candidate designed to throw all the other candidates off their game and guarantee a Democratic victory. It’s an absolutely delicious thought, but like so much else in American politics, it’s just so much horse manure. 

I for one plan to enjoy Mr. Trump’s candidacy. It’s a little like having your crazy uncle who says just anything that comes to mind totally disrupt the long-planned family reunion. But like all beautiful bubbles, the time will come for this one to burst. Trump’s runaway mouth will go too far even for conservative Republicans.

Our best hope is that he keeps his promise of running as an independent, guaranteeing late-night comedians, and those of us who need a good laugh, comedic fodder for months to come.

 Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:


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Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.







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