Trump on the stump: His problem is that 70 per cent of Americans have an unfavourable opinion of him (Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0)
There are more challenging tasks in journalism — generating fun-filled accounts of the daily deliberations of the European Parliament comes to mind — but writing a piece on this year’s US elections for a monthly magazine is not without its risks. Yes, yes, “events, dear boy”, and all that, but American politics have been ridiculous of late. It’s not just been a matter of the number and strangeness of the surprises that have popped up; there’s also the speed at which they have occurred and the devastation they have inflicted on the conventional wisdom of just the day before.
This has been a primary season in which the final nail to be knocked into the coffin of the Marco Rubio campaign was, arguably, the Florida senator’s decision to go, so to speak, mano a mano against the Donald in the sewer that Trump has made his own, mocking the size of the billionaire’s hands and, nudge, nudge, by extension (if that’s the word) the size of, well, something else.
To be fair, even Donald Trump is probably taken aback by how well his bid for the Republican nomination has gone. In a revealing (if disputed) “open letter” published on xoJane, a website “where women go to be their unabashed selves”, Stephanie Cegielski, a former strategist for the pro-Trump Super PAC Make America Great Again (a Super PAC is a committee that can accept unlimited donations to fund political spending, so long as it keeps a certain distance from candidates and their parties), unabashedly bashed Trump. Make America Great Again eventually super-packed it in amid suggestions that its distance from Trump had not been great enough, a defect that Cegielski has, if only retrospectively, tried to put right. She now contends that the Donald never anticipated he would get as far as he has done (and, indeed, that he would not have wanted to).
The Republicans could thus be led into these elections by someone so divisive that he has divided what is, for now, his own party (Trump has moved around over the years) and who, for good measure, had never wanted the job in the first place. What could go wrong?
Whatever his initial intentions Trump now seems determined to install himself in the Oval Office. In Cegielski’s view, Trump’s original objective was to take second place in the Republican race. His aim was to “send a message to America” and, while he was at it (Trump is Trump) “increase his power as a businessman”. But this blend of self-promotion and protest fermented into something more ambitious. Trump’s pride was “too out of control” to let him call a halt. Yes, Cegielski was writing as a repentant (“Trump made me believe. Until I woke up”) but from what we know of Trump’s obsessively competitive personality, shaped to no small degree by his father, a downmarket Joe Kennedy, her analysis is all too credible.
If Trump, a man not known for underestimating his own appeal, has been taken aback by the amount of support he has won, how must his rivals have felt as he sailed through icebergs, predominantly of his own making, that would have sunk any other campaign? The “short-fingered vulgarian” (to borrow the Spy magazine description from way back when) has been able to do so because he has the cash and public persona that enable him to transcend the conventions of America’s political game and because, to many disaffected Republicans, Trump’s willingness to break those conventions is a sign that he is the candidate they have been waiting for.
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