The Trump riddle continues to compel: How has he managed to successfully execute such a mass deception?
He’s by no definition a conservative, and yet he continues to plow ahead of all but the other least likely presidential nominee, Ben Carson, who has tied Trump in Iowa. Straight talk? Old hat. Tall and commanding? So is LeBron, let’s elect him. Smart and accomplished? Born lucky and benefited from bankruptcy.
Reporters have turned over leaves and pebbles in search of clues, even recently interviewing faculty at Trump’s alma mater, the Wharton School. While demurring on Trump’s politics, professors commended his marketing skills — short sentences, simple ideas, control of the conversation and, therefore, the media.
Marketing, after all, is a system of deceptions organized around a product or idea, in this case Trump to conservatives who either aren’t really conservative or are willingly seduced because, oh, it just feels so good to hear one’s innermost thoughts expressed so virulently.
Into this category falls Trump’s recent tirade against Huma Abedin, known as Hillary Clinton’s closest adviser and even better as Anthony Weiner’s wife. Trump liberated his inner Chris Rock, calling Weiner “a perv” and mock typing Weiner’s infamous tweets.
As his audience guffawed, Trump questioned the likelihood of Weiner’s not being privy to classified State Department information via his wife. Now that’s funny. Trump doesn’t care what state secrets Weiner knows. Trump wants people to associate the “perv” with Clinton.
Similarly, he wants to associate murderous illegal immigrants with Jeb Bush. A recent Trump campaign video challenging Bush’s immigration comment that people come here illegally as an “act of love” (to find work to support their families) features three grisly hombres in the U.S. illegally who have been charged with murder. One has been convicted.
“Love?” the text reads. “Forget love. It’s time to get tough!”
Genius. Trump is a human handler extraordinaire — the jet-set equivalent of the black-hatted fellow who wheeled his cart into tumbleweed towns. He doesn’t just sell snake oil. He milks the venom from the gathering throng of willing believers, then bottles it up and sells it right back to them. Delicious with raw meat.
There’s something curious about this crowd, however. Trump’s fans aren’t just pokes looking for entertainment. They also include many well-known conservative purists. How does a staunchly pro-life advocate support a man who was recently pro-choice and who has said, albeit when asked, that his sister, a judge who ruled in favor of partial-birth abortion, would make a “phenomenal” Supreme Court justice?
Much of this puzzling support comes from conservative talk radio. As BuzzFeed posted recently, “You can almost listen to pro-Trump news all day.”
When answers seem elusive — and overturned pebbles reveal only dirt and worm trails — we fall back on cliches, one of which seems especially apt today: Follow the money.
In Trump’s own words from an interview with the Wall Street Journal, “When you give (money), they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”
And, in the GOP debate: “With Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding. You know why? She didn’t have a choice because I gave ... to a foundation.”
Perhaps it’s time to award Trump the title he deserves: Don Donald Trump, or just Don-Don for short. And then one must ask, who else owes him?
Fans boast that Trump is so rich, he’ll never be beholden to anyone. Maybe. But just as important, who is beholden to him? Other politicians? Members of the media? Insiders whisper that some media folks have received free memberships to Trump’s Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago. Such a gift doesn’t necessarily buy favorable coverage, but one wouldn’t be silly for thinking so.
Meanwhile, Trump’s kerfuffle with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly seems in retrospect almost to have been manufactured. First, Kelly asks a legitimate question about Trump’s intemperate remarks about women; he attacks; she goes on vacation and returns; he attacks again. Ratings! Polls!
Now Fox News hosts are urging, as if reading from a script, that Trump focus on the issues — because he’s sooo great on the issues — and leave our Megyn alone.
Trump knows he has the world over a barrel. His opponents fear him because he gave them money. His party fears him because he might run as an Independent. We should all fear a presidential candidate who perfumes the air with red meat and is prepared to collect on his debts.
It’s time for Trump’s fellow candidates to forget love — and get tough.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.