Imagine if the 2016 presidential election was held today and the candidates were Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, for whom would you cast your vote?
While preparing to write this piece I emailed that question to a family member who is male, thirty- two years old, lives in California and works for an internet company that everyone knows. His immediate response was:
Are you kidding me? I would vote for Charles Manson over Donald Trump.
Despite the fact that Donald Trump is one of the most polarizing personalities in America, all signs point to the real possibility that “The Donald” is flirting with running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
I equate this happening with a slow motion train wreck — you know you should turn away but you just keep staring.
And “staring” is what crowds of conservative Republicans did this past summer when “The Donald” spoke at two highly political grassroots events along with a host of other 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls.
Let’s review the calendar and then analyze what it means.
In Washington D.C. on June 14th, (The Donald’s 67th birthday) he was the keynote dinner speaker at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority Conference” attended by 1,800 Christian conservatives. (Not exactly where one would expect Trump to spend his birthday evening unless he was totally serious about wooing this influential “family values” crowd.)
His second appearance was on August 10th at the evangelical Christian Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa. (The IowaRepublican.com called it “the most impressive political event that will take place in Iowa this year.”)
There is only one possible explanation for Trump to be in Ames, Iowa in August, 2013 – that’s right, he loves fresh corn on the cob! But also he was invited to make his first-ever political visit to the first caucus state, where again he was the keynote speaker taking the podium after rising GOP star, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former Senator Rick Santorum — the 2012 GOP Iowa caucus winner.
So why does ANY of this matter?
First, Trump’s appearance at both these events was meant to curry favor with a sliver of the most conservative/activist primary voting block within the Republican Party 29 months before the 2016 presidential primaries.
Therefore, other than Trump officially declaring his candidacy, could there be any better proof that Trump is seriously courting the GOP primary base in hopes of running for and winning the Republican presidential nomination?
Second, at these pre-2016 political “beauty pageants” (pun definitely intended because Trump owns the Miss Universe and Miss USA beauty pageants) Donald Trump was “the man to watch.” But the major reason both event organizers asked Trump to be the keynote speaker was that they knew colorful sound-bites from Trump’s speeches would echo around cable news channels for at least one 24-hour news cycle; thus lifting these normally ignored gatherings into the national limelight.
From now on, I will refer to The Donald’s ability to attract political media attention as the “Trump Effect” bringing us to the first of five reasons why a Donald Trump candidacy could actually be a positive development for the Republican Party in 2016.
- Trump brings celebrity pop culture to the GOP
Like it or not, Republicans must face the indisputable fact that we are living in an age where “celebrity” and politics have become permanently intertwined. This unfortunate development places the GOP at an extreme disadvantage since the party suffers from a severe shortage of pop culture star-power.
Clint Eastwood’s empty chair on stage at the 2012 RNC Convention was a symbol of this problem. Parenthetically, while I was watching Eastwood’s performance at the convention hall I was actually praying that what I was seeing live was playing out much better on TV. Unfortunately that prayer was not answered.
So enter Donald Trump an A-list, pop culture icon with 98% national name recognition and a personal global brand that people either love or hate. And due to the Trump Effect he is capable of filling that star-power void with as much media attention as the Republican Party can possibly tolerate.
For example, this past May, Mark Winter, spokesman for a local Novi, Michigan Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner where Trump was the headline speaker, said it was the highest turnout the event has ever seen, even compared to other Lincoln Day dinners across the country. “Love (Trump) or hate him, people want to see him,” said Winter. “I think there’s an entertainment factor that’s different than having somebody stand up and just spout political views.”
The good news for the GOP is that a portion of the media spotlight aimed at Trump will spill over to some of the lesser known candidates thus increasing national exposure for the entire 2016 bench.
- Trump is not afraid to call it like he sees it
This past March at the prestigious, annual CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) in Washington D.C., Trump was a keynote speaker (of course). He generated enthusiastic applause and the Trump Effect worked in overdrive with this comment:
“We’re run by either very foolish or very stupid people. What’s going on in this country is unbelievable. Our country is a total mess, a total and complete mess, and what we need is leadership.”
Then recently on August 20th, Trump made the following statement to Greta Van Susteren on the Fox News Channel:
“China is just laughing at how stupid our leadership is. They can’t believe they’re getting away — I deal with many people from China. I’ve made fantastic deals with people from China. They cannot believe how stupid our leadership is.”
These kind of statements spoken with old-fashioned American bravado are not ravings of a mad man, but powerful rallying cries aimed at the Republican base and the media responds like cats to catnip.
Then, all the attention and media buzz generated by Trump’s brash statements end up showering him with more keynote speaking invitations at Republican grassroots conservative events. That in turn fuels the Trump Effect creating more momentum that will influence his decision about an actual run for the nomination. (As opposed to just a “publicity run” meant to beef up Trump’s television ratings and bolster his personal brand which many believe are his real motives.)
- Trump’s “kick ass” and “can do” winning attitude is appealing to the Republican base
Even though Trump is widely perceived to be a narcissistic egomaniac his “kick ass, get the job done, winning attitude” appeals to many Americans, but especially the Republican base who generally believe that our nation is on the path to permanent decline.
There is no doubt that Trump is perceived as a winner and voters like winners. The Trump name stands for national and international business success but also American achievement through hard work and marketing savvy.
Therefore, IF Donald Trump properly positions himself as the “American fixer” standing on his track record of national/ international management experience and job creation/ investment expertise — coupled with realistic policy plans about how to restore our national economy and standing in the world, THEN candidate Trump’s message and persona COULD become a key asset to the sagging, old, tired and toxic GOP brand.
Moreover, Trump’s enthusiasm and economic message might even attract single women, young voters and minorities who have all been driven away from the Republican Party.
- Trump would not have to waste all his time fundraising
While attending Iowa’s, Family Leadership Summit, Donald Trump granted a widely reported interview with ABC’s Jonathan Karl on This Week during which he discussed funding his own campaign if he decided to run. Karl offered that presidential campaigns can cost $500 million (actually a billion dollars is more accurate) and Trump said, “I’d be willing to spend that kind of money. I’d spend whatever it took.”
In the era of big campaign money the concept of self-funding might actually appeal to voters of both parties. Then Trump could make the case that he is not beholden to any person, or special interest group. More important, not having to spend all his time fundraising would free him up to work on developing bi- partisan and private sector solutions to our nation’s numerous problems.
- Trump describes what it will take to run against Hillary Clinton
CNN reported that in his Iowa keynote speech Trump said the following:
“Somebody is going to have to emerge who is really smart and really tough,” he said. “Because Obama should have been beaten. Hillary is going to be tougher to beat. And the Republicans have to do what’s right. If they don’t pick the right person, and I mean, it has to be the perfect person, they are going to get dropped in the 2016 election.”
Also in that aforementioned keynote speech at the May Lincoln Day Dinner attended by a record breaking 2,300 faithful in Novi, Michigan, Trump predicted that Hillary Clinton would be the Democrat nominee and warned that if Republicans “don’t pick the right person, it will be a landslide.”
It sure sounds as if Trump is describing himself as the one who is capable of defeating Hillary, but still it is unrealistic to believe that a traditional Republican Party would nominate someone an unpredictable as Donald Trump to be its standard bearer in 2016.
However, after his early courting of the conservative base, it looks as if Donald Trump is laying the groundwork for a serious run. His ability to attract crowds of activist primary voters feeds his political ego, keeps him on the GOP speaking circuit and most important, in the national media spotlight with a political message.
Finally, a few months back I was discussing a possible Trump candidacy with a friend who is a well known political consultant. When I asked him what he thought about Donald Trump running in 2016 he said, “Trump has nothing except money and a big mouth.”
That may be true, but in our current political landscape where celebrity and pop culture rules the day, money and a big mouth can get you very far especially now when the Republican party is in desperate need of some strong leadership and a very big voice.