The Clown Candidacy

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In the annals of political reportage, I thought perhaps we’d hit bottom last week with this: a fake journalist interviewing a fake presidential candidate about a campaign that will never exist. Meghan McCain and Trump banter about important topics like what Meghan’s mom thinks of the Donald, whether the real-estate tycoon would hire the writer and whether Trump is “really ready for this.” The whole piece reads like two teens gossiping over AIM.

Not to be outdone, Slate–perpetually on the hunt for the counter-intuitive take– found a Daily Caller scribe to make the case for taking Trump’s candidacy seriously. The upshot: Trump’s chest-thumping brio plays well in a party that’s “supposed to be all about ‘me.’” Jeff Winkler writes that Trump’s challenge is “to sell the conservative movement on two things: that he has the kind of pugnacious pizzazz that can beat Obama, and that he shares some of its core values.” Trump has the pugnacity part down pat. Just look at how he questioned Obama’s birth certificate, bravely soldiering on in the face of all evidence. Like Republicans, Winkler concludes, Trump is “serious about winning.”

The “core values” thing will be an issue, though. You know what’s not a core Republican value? Single-payer health care. Or a 14.25% net worth tax on Americans worth more than $10 million. Or donating gobs of cash to Democrats over the course of several decades, including $50,000 to Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral candidacy in December. (A priceless aside: according to the Center for Responsive Politics, no politician has been a bigger beneficiary of the Donald’s largesse since 1990 than New York City’s own Charlie Rangel.) Any of those apostasies could easily torpedo a Trump candidacy. Even if one came to fruition, the chances of the GOP considering a candidate who wants to wedge visits to Iowa in between tapings of The Celebrity Apprentice is exactly zero.

Which is about the likelihood that Trump actually runs. There is no easier layup in the headline-grabbing game than pretending to run for president, a fact Trump knows well. He pulled the same play a decade ago, threatening a bid on the Reform Party ticket. More than a decade before that, as Scherer reported in a profile that shows how Trump sells Trump, the Donald was buying newspaper ads and offering the same hawkish bromides about the decline of American military might, just to stoke rumors of a run. This time, in the age of the Internet, the gambit takes the shape of a mind-bending meta-experiment: how does a political press corps, feeling pressure to fill column inches and follow Google trends, seriously cover a demonstrably unserious non-candidate? For the most part, so far the answer has been: not well.

That’s not to say Trump hasn’t put his mark on the race. While an array of aspirants weigh their own decisions, he’s been eating up the clock, distracting the masses with bluster about how America has become a laughingstock and the President should “take the oil and stop this baby stuff” in Libya. The inchoate Republican field is surely thankful, and not least between Trump’s reality TV candidacy offers a favorable juxtaposition for them.

It’s clear that Trump thinks the prospect of a Trump candidacy is irresistible to a political media beholden to buzz. So far he’s been right. We should prove him wrong.


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