Three days after Donald Trump announced his run for president in June, I asked if “maybe Trump is a double agent for the Left. He is nearly a cartoon version of . . . the kind of conservative (Stephen) Colbert played on Comedy Central until this year. He reinforces all the Left’s negative stereotypes of conservatives as ignorant blowhards.”
Indeed, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds a majority of Americans think Trump has damaged the Republican party’s image.
“Clinton sounded curious about Trump’s moves towards a presidential bid and told Trump that he was striking a chord with frustrated conservatives and was a rising force on the right,” the Post reports, noting its information came from both Trump allies and a Clinton aide.
The call was one of many conversations the Clintons and Trump have had over the years. Until his recent criticism of Hillary Clinton as “the worst secretary of state in the history of our nation,” Trump used to be a big Hillary booster, enjoying what the Post calls a “cordial, even cozy, relationship” with her. Hillary Clinton attended Trump’s 2005 wedding (and Bill attended the wedding reception), and he has showered her Senate campaigns with contributions on four separate occasions as well as being a donor to her 2008 presidential campaign. In 2012, after Clinton had been secretary of state for over three years, he told Fox News that she was a “terrific woman . . . she really works hard and I think she does a good job.” He has also said that the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton over his perjury before a federal judge and obstruction of justice in the Lewinsky scandal was “totally unimportant” and “nonsense.”
The Clintons have also been very sparing in their criticism of Trump, until Hillary Clinton was forced to respond to his comments about Mexican “rapists.” “He has been, believe it or not, uncommonly nice to Hillary and me,” Bill Clinton said of Trump on The Daily Show just last month. “He thought Hillary was a good senator for New York after 9/11 and he has actually, he’s one of the many Republicans who supported our foundation before they got the memo.”
As the Daily Beast’s Michael Daly notes, Bill has gone out of his way not to criticize Trump: “(He once) prefaced a mild response to Trump’s birther comments about President Obama by saying of his pal Donald, ‘I like him. And I love playing golf with him.’”
It will be a political gift for Hillary’s chances to become president if a Donald Trump who was spurned by Republicans were to wind up making a third-party bid in 2016.
The mischievous Bill Clinton also no doubt loves playing political footsie with Trump. It will be a political gift for Hillary’s chances to become president if a Donald Trump who was spurned by Republicans were to wind up making a third-party bid in 2016 — a move which would probably allow Hillary to repeat Bill’s feat of winning the presidency with only 43 percent of the vote in 1992 (thanks to the 19 percent won by Ross Perot’s independent candidacy). Late last month, Trump told The Hill newspaper that the odds of him mounting a third-party bid will “absolutely” increase if he views the Republican National Committee as being unfair to him. “The RNC has not been supportive,” he said. “The RNC has been, I think, very foolish.” He noted that “so many people want me to [run third-party], if I don’t win” the Republican nomination.
Of course, it’s hard to tell what the mercurial Trump will do. Much of it may depend on who is feeding his ego or bruising it at any given time. What is certain is that you can’t take what he says about any issue or anyone to the bank. He is almost gleeful about his ability to change his tune.
Last Sunday, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl asked Trump about a series of contradictory statements he has made about his GOP rivals. Karl pointed out with a devastating series of quotes how Trump had fairly recently lavished praise on Jeb Bush and Rick Perry but now trashes them.
Trump’s response was very revealing:
It’s a very simple answer to that. I was a businessman all my life. I’ve made a tremendous fortune. I had to deal with politicians and I would contribute to them and I would deal with them and certainly I’m not going to say bad things about people because I needed their support to get projects done. I needed their support for lots of things or I may have needed their support, put it another way.
I mean, you’re not going to say horrible things and then go in a year later and say, “Listen, can I have your support for this project or this development or this business?/” So I say nice [things] about almost everybody and I contributed to people because I was a smart business man. I’ve built a tremendous company. And I did that based on relationships.
Now I’m no longer a businessman. Now I’m somebody that wants to make our country great. And the tone is too weak. But we need a tougher tone. We can’t have that tone anymore. We need a strong tone and we need tremendous enthusiasm and as you understand, Jeb doesn’t have that strong tone and he doesn’t have that level of enthusiasm that you need to make our country great again.
Trump’s comments convey a sense of just how intertwined business and politics have become in America — he admitted to Karl that “as a businessman, I support everybody. I supported everybody and I did very well doing it.” But in the short term, his comments indicate he is capable of just about anything politically.RNC chairman Reince Preibus told Fox News last month that he does not think Donald Trump will run as a third-party candidate should he fail to get the GOP nomination. “I think he knows that if you’re going to beat Hillary Clinton — if Hillary Clinton is going to get beat, there’s only one party that’s going to beat her: It’s the Republican party,” Priebus told Greta Van Susteren.
But what if beating Hillary Clinton isn’t a priority for Donald Trump? After all, this is a man who was a registered Democrat until 2009 and who gave a clear majority of his political contributions to Democrats until 2012 — including Democrats like Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and Hillary Clinton. I have no doubt that should Hillary Clinton become president Donald Trump will praise her once again, and he would, in his own words, “do very well doing it.”
Here’s hoping one or more of the GOP candidates in tonight’s debate brings up Donald Trump’s curious on-again, off-again relationship with both conservatism and the Clintons.
— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for National Review Online.