What makes ‘The Donald’ run? Donald Trump, hotshot real estate developer and the biggest vulgarian in the Western Hemisphere, suddenly discover a heretofore-unsuspected ambition for political office – and not just any political office, but nothing less than the White House? What’s up with that?
I’ll tell you what’s up. Or, better yet, here is Francis X. Clines in the New York Times, succinctly summing up the meaning and motive behind the Trump presidential bandwagon.
Mr. Trump, who has never been a political candidate, clearly timed his announcement to target Mr. Buchanan, denouncing him on NBC television as the candidate of the "really staunch Right wacko vote." "Look, he's a Hitler lover," Mr. Trump said, alluding to the recent controversy over Mr. Buchanan's view that in World War II Hitler had initially presented no serious threat to the United States. "I guess he's an anti-Semite," Mr. Trump said.
With his gambling casinos, his self-conscious flamboyance, and the studied air of a man who takes the task of making himself look ridiculous very seriously, Trump is a clownish figure, served up by the media as more of an entertainment than a serious candidate. Don’t you believe it. Trump is deadly serious. He has already booked media buys, a series of "fireside chats" starting in April. No, it isn’t meant as an April fool’s joke – these days, Donald Trump, playboy entrepreneur and casino owner, is a man with a mission. No more frivolity, no more "super-models." "I have respect for the office," he said, explaining his reformation – as if he had already won.
Here is a man used to getting what he wants, and he is willing to pay for it. Trump has pledged to spend a whopping $100 million on his campaign. His campaign manager, Republican consultant Roger Stone, once an advisor to the Dole campaign, is carefully marketing "The Donald" as a kind of blue-collar Republican – aimed specifically at Buchanan’s demographic base. A CBS News report put it this way: "Trump's greatest popularity is with the kind of people building his newest skyscraper: blue-collar men. They enjoy ‘The Donald’ acting like ‘The Don.’" The idea, according to these self-appointed experts on the psychology of the prole male, is that all gold-chain-wearing young ethnics want to be like "The Donald" – and are bound to be drawn into the voting booth by Trump’s parody of the lower-class alpha male-made-good, because they see their crude selves reflected in his picturesque braggadocio.
It doesn’t matter that this caricature is a strictly upper class construct with little or no relation to reality. Stone has no doubt convinced his client that these guys look up to him, that he is – or could be a role model to millions. Media analyst Roger Trout, who says that the Trump candidacy is a "giant scam," insists that the whole thing is a publicity stunt and will never really happen. Trout points out that Trump’s poll numbers are abysmal, much much lower than Buchanan’s – and, if you can believe it, even way below Linda Tripp’s!
But poll numbers are not the point. Patrick J. Buchanan is the point. Trump started out his campaign smearing Buchanan: "Hitler-lover" were practically the first words out of his big mouth after announcing his interest in a White House run, and you can bet there’s more to come: $100 million’s worth.
But why, you ask why has "The Donald" emerged as Buchanan’s competitor for the Reform Party nod, and not someone more serious, say, John Anderson, or former Colorado governor Richard Lamb, who briefly challenged Perot for the nomination in 1996? Surely this is some surrealistic nightmare, in which the evolution of the presidential candidate as movie star and politics as public spectacle has reached its grotesque zenith. But as a levelheaded appraisal in Salon points out:
"Contrary to public perception, while Trump may be an electoral neophyte as a candidate he is not green to politics. As a young man, he joined the family real-estate business a highly politicized enterprise, especially in New York. Trump, in effect, became the company bagman, handing out contributions to politicians in return for favorable treatment for the family's holdings. He's been an equal-opportunity influence buyer, building his own empire in part by playing the pols like violins, ladling out the bucks to Democrats like Gov. Mario Cuomo and Mayor Ed Koch when they were in power, then switching with ease to Republicans George Pataki and Rudy Guiliani when they took office.
Who knows what debts Trump is paying off to those who have been in a position to help him and his booming real estate empire? The evidence that he is acting as the errand boy of the left wing of the Republican party, epitomized by New York City Mayor Guiliani and Republican governor George Pataki, is a suspicion well-founded. Trump went broke when his casino floundered and some of his real estate investments didn’t pan out: he likes to say that he fought his way back up – but fails to mention that he did it with more than a little help from friends in high places. He is building a 90-story condominium tower next door to the United Nations, over the vehement protests of community groups and neighborhood residents, with plenty of political muscle supplied by the Mayor’s office. Likewise with the development of the old rail yards on the Upper West Side, some of the most valuable real estate in the Big Apple, which has residents in an uproar – and the firm support of City Hall.
Trump’s political loyalties, such as they are, can be divined by looking at the pattern of his political contributions – neoconservatives of both parties have been the beneficiaries of Trump’s largess. But this is just scratching the surface. More important is the perpetually precarious state of his finances. His well-publicized bout with near-bankruptcy in the early 90s left him $900 million in debt. While he claims that his comeback is due solely to his "can-do" attitude a key theme of the "narrative" he is selling—clearly he has been bailed out time and again, financially as well as politically. On his latest acquisition alone, what used to be the General Motors building on Fifth Avenue, he borrowed $700 million, together with his partners, and provided a $200 million personal guarantee, according to the New York Times, although Trump denies it. Why bother denying it when it’s a matter of public record? For some reason, he doesn’t want his indebtedness examined too closely.
If he could in effect pay off some of his debts, both political and financial, by investing a mere $100 million, then that is a pretty good investment. The Trump campaign, looked at in this light, this gives new meaning to The Donald’s boast while being paid $100,000 to speak at a Tony Robbins motivational rally that he is the "only candidate who makes money while he runs." From some reports, Trump could use the money. He denies that he is cash-strapped, but the New York Times article referenced above reports that he lost millions on his casino; tellingly, he won’t say whether he has $100 million in the bank to spend, but airily dismisses the idea that his pledge to spend that much on his campaign was an idle boast: "Money today is very plentiful."
Oh? But why would any bank, or anyone for that matter, loan a businessman who already went bankrupt once $100 million just as the bull market bubble seems ready to burst? In effect, Trump’s creditors, the New York banks, will be financing his campaign. But why, you ask, should they do that? Why should the "Money Power," as Buchanan would put it, finance a campaign to deny one of their fiercest and most unrelenting critics the Reform Party nomination? Why should a man who questions the loyalty of our transnational corporate elite suddenly discover that a well-funded candidate pops out of nowhere and stands in his path? How is it that a vain and very indebted New York real estate wheeler-dealer, not exactly a policy wonk, suddenly develops the idea that he ought to run for President – is it just an advanced case of megalomania, or something else? You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that the fix is in for Pat Buchanan. It seems fairly clear, even to the willfully naïve, that The Donald has not started out on the road to the White House with some of the lowest poll numbers on recent record without some prompting.
Much of that prompting no doubt came from Roger Stone, the Republican political operative kicked out of the Dole campaign when the tabloids revealed that he and his wife had placed sex ads in a slew of sleazy magazines, advertising for "couples": "Prefer military, bodybuilders, jocks. No smokers or fat please."
It was also revealed that Stone, in the company of his wife, visited a Washington sex club called Capitol Couple. Writing about Stone’s disgrace in the New Republic, Dana Milbank puts it this way:
"There were photos of her in a black negligee and him bare-chested, and there was an enumeration of her personal measurements. Stone said he had been set up, but he was forced to step down as an adviser to the Dole campaign.
"And finally there was the vehicle for Roger Stone's rehabilitation: Donald Trump himself."
Now "rehabilitation" is a funny word to use, in that context, for it raises the question in whose eyes Stone is being rehabilitated? Who else but his Republican ex-employers? That this is his way of weaseling back into the good graces of the GOP establishment, which will be duly grateful for services rendered, is the clear implication. Given the character and politics of the people we are talking about, the "cat’s paw" scenario is all too plausible. The author of The Art of the Deal has signed an unofficial nonaggression pact with his friends over at the Republican National Committee: while Buchanan has been steadily and relentlessly attacking the foreign policy of the Clinton administration, Trump has trained his fire on Buchanan and virtually ignored Bush. The harshest thing he has said so far about the latter is that he is "saddened" that Dubya is "not exactly Einstein" – a conclusion that many voters might find somewhat comforting as well as entirely unsurprising.
Can Trump buy the Reform Party nomination? My guess is no, but that is really beside the point. For he can do immense damage, both to Buchanan and to America’s nascent third party movement, in the process of trying. The genius of what we might call the cat’s-paw strategy being used against Buchanan is that, in choosing Trump as their instrument, the Anti-Buchanan Brigade has vulgarized the political debate inside the Reform Party: a contest pitting Buchanan against Trump can only drag the former down to the latter’s level, underscoring the main theme of the media assault on the Reform Party: that it is a circus, a freak show, and not to be taken seriously. The Big Lie technique at work.
Since it was Trump who started out his campaign smearing Buchanan as a "Hitler-lover," inevitably The Donald will face questions about his own reputed love of Der Fuehrer. This story has been making the rounds for a long time, and finally saw print in a recent piece by Marie Brenner in Vanity Fair. Brenner reports that Trump keeps Hitler’s book, My New Order, in a bedside cabinet, and regularly reads from it for inspiration. This makes perfect sense to Brenner, who perceptively writes that Trump, like Hitler, is a skillful propagandist: his penchant for repetitive hyperbole and prevarication, she notes, bears more than a passing resemblance to Hitler’s "Big Lie" technique. We will see that technique in action, if my worst nightmare comes true, in the coming months. According to one of the few news reports I’ve seen on this question:
"When Brenner bearded Trump in his den on this issue, Donald said it was his friend Marty Davis of Paramount Pictures who'd given him a copy of Mein Kampf and he's a Jew. Davis says he didn't give Trump Mein Kampf, but the aforesaid My New Order. ‘I thought he would find it interesting. I am his friend, but I'm not Jewish.’ Trump told Brenner, ‘If I had these speeches, and I am not saying that I do, I would never read them.’"
Imagine what would happen if Vanity Fair published a piece exposing Pat Buchanan’s favorite bedtime reading as a dog-eared copy of My New Order, or even The Collected Speeches of Father Coughlin? We would never – ever – hear the end of it. In The Donald’s case, however, it is barely mentioned. This could change the moment he starts spending millions in an obvious attempt to maul Buchanan and destroy the Reform movement as a viable opposition party. Especially if – or should I say when? – the Hitler-baiting starts up big-time, Trump is just asking to be exposed. It could happen soon, and in a big way.
According to Brenner, another copy of My New Order, possibly with Trump’s notes in the margin, is in the possession of his estranged wife Ivana’s lawyer, Michael Kennedy, where it sits in the vault "as if it were a grenade." Here’s hoping that Ivana lights the fuse.
On his website, The Donald regales us with quotes from the media that echo his own inflated sense of self-importance, including one from Newsweek's Howard Fineman, who advises us to
"Keep an eye on Trump. He has, as they say in the business these days, a 'narrative.' Nearly in bankruptcy a few years ago, The Donald has re-emerged as perhaps the most powerful builder in what he calls "the hottest real-estate market on the planet," New York. He speaks in a clear, punchy style, and is the kind of business hero (like Lee Iacocca before him) who appeals to blue-collars and computer nerds alike."
Trump's "narrative" ought to be a familiar one to conservatives: a "moderate" candidate pops up out of nowhere, with startling abruptness, to block the path of an ideological conservative. Wendell Wilkie, a Wall Street lawyer who had never run for public office or displayed the least bit of political ambition, played that role against the "isolationist" (i.e. pro-peace) Robert A. Taft in 1936.
Another quote bandied about by the Trump operation is one from Camille Paglia, who avers: "Buchanan appears less qualified for high office than the quirkily long-shot Donald Trump, an articulate, shrewdly observant, high-powered businessman and real estate developer with a genuine common touch." Having made her name as an acerbic if still acceptably liberal critic of academic political and cultural correctness, the author of Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson should stick to what she knows art criticism and "high culture" and leave such plebeian pastimes as politics to us lowbrows. There is nothing genuine about Donald Trump, or his candidacy: not his serio-comic "platform," the product of "focus groups" and cynical "marketing" techniques, nor his hair color, which looks like it comes out of a very cheap bottle. He is, indeed, the virtual personnification of inauthenticity. Paglia ought to be ashamed of herself for allowing herself to be used by this cretinous Croesus. Whatever she got out of it it wasn't enough. The Donald is not even in the same league as Buchanan: in facing down his enemies, Pat is a giant among pygmies but Paglia, like the rest of the cynical, decadent elites in this country, is blindly hostile to Pat's stern republican virtues. The pagan Paglia and her ilk are creatures of the Empire, the cultural and political effluvia of a degenerate and hopelessly comnpromised elite. Will the Reform Party prove vulnerable to their virtually unanimous chorus of Pat-bashing and media hype? We shall see. I'm counting on you, Ivana and the revulsion of the Reformers at this blatant attempt to bribe and co-opt their party.
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