What to make of Trump candidacy

April 19, 2011 

As the number of Republicans declaring themselves potential presidential candidates has begun to look like a conga line without music, hope lingered that somewhere unnoticed was a brilliant dark horse biding his sweet time.

Wherever pundits and pinots merged, a mantra materialized. Surely, a miracle would occur and The Candidate would emerge at just the right moment to rescue an ennui-stricken electorate from establishmentarians and their tea-partying ankle-biters. Cymbals would sound; angels would succumb to arias; Democrats would quake. And prosperity, world peace and well-adjusted children would follow. But who?

Turns out, The Candidate would be tall and rich and sport a coif that defies party identification. He would be a reality TV star. And his name would be known to all, such that even jaded veterans would slap their foreheads as the obvious became clear. But of course! The Donald.

As presidential sweepstakes go, one couldn't find an odder -- and yet more predictable -- candidate than Donald Trump, whose name needs no burnishing. One can hardly walk a block in this city without stumbling into an edifice bearing his name. He towers over all others in Monopoly.

Trump is inevitable in the same way Barack Obama was. That is to say, each president tends to be a reaction to the previous commander in chief. George W. Bush was the opposite of Bill Clinton, and Obama was certainly nothing like Bush. At least not as a candidate.

This presidential formula, largely consistent through the years, has become exaggerated recently owing to cultural developments unique to our times, including our infatuation with celebrity and our attraction to extreme forms of expression. From movies to sports to politics and punditry, everything is big, loud, and over the top.

If people have wearied of Obama's cerebral serenity and an approach to governance that seems overconsidered, then who better than The Donald to seize the alternative? Trump, live-and-in-living-color, is a Muhammad Ali of Main Street -- bombastic and boastful, a provocateur with money to put where his mouth is. He knows what he knows, and we can take it or leave it. The Donald doesn't care. In a poll-driven punditocracy, the mind spoken so freely offers a tonic to toxicity.

Except when it doesn't. About that birther thing.

Trump entered the presidential fray with the headline-snatching pronouncement that Obama should produce proof of his birth on U.S. turf. This same ol' same ol' nonsense, which has been amply resolved by nonpartisan entities, nonetheless received the requisite attention.

Trying to convince birthers that Obama is a legitimate citizen rather than a closet jihadist is like trying to convince a terrified child that there's no monster under the bed. No amount of reasoning will do, though there is one bit of logic that seems to have escaped mention and that ought to provide relief to the most-fevered minds.

Herewith: If there were even one iota of evidence suggesting that Obama was not born in this country, does anyone really think that Hillary Clinton wouldn't have raised it during the campaign? Really?

The Clintons don't just have people; they have armadas of political machinery. If Obama were born anywhere but where he says he was born, we'd all be saying, "Madame President" and "Bill's Bubbalicious Barbecue Sauce" would be nudging Paul Newman's marinara off grocery store shelves.

A cynic might ponder the possibility that Team Obama keeps the birther meme in circulation. As the president himself told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, Republicans who embrace the birther movement are hurting themselves.

In saner times, we'd recognize and dismiss the ravings of madmen, self-promoters and false prophets. Today, thanks to the democratization of the megaphone and the political bulimia we euphemistically call "dialogue," any old canard can enjoy 15 minutes of credibility.

Sure enough, Trump's challenge to Obama's natural-born citizenship has gained traction among a disturbing number of believe-anythingers, outscoring others in GOP presidential preference polls.

While the new head of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, is urging birthers to take their meds, some have wondered whether Trump's rant is mere stunt. In the age of celebrity, it doesn't matter what people are saying about you as long as they're talking about you, goes the "thinking."

By this calculus, the more ridiculous one is, the more likely one is to benefit from buzz. And then, who knows, one may become a sensation in the Twitterverse, and then pop goes the weasel, and th-th-th-that's all, folks!

Until the next cycle begins, even sooner than the last.

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