In this morning’s Jolt, a look at budget cuts that aren’t as big as they seem and a strikingly sensible assessment of the Koran and violence in the Muslim world from Donald Trump. But first, a few thoughts on Trump and our entrance into the era of the celebrity candidate:
2011’s Surprise Candidate: Donald Trump. Predicted 2012 Surprise: Charlie Sheen.
You scoff at the Sheen suggestion. But he is, as the Chinese press reminded us, the son of a president.
I think I see the appeal of the Donald as he continues his media blitz. He talks about Obama the way many of us on the Right do — like he’s an in-over-his-head academic theoretician who has stumbled around for way too long and who needs to be replaced as soon as possible before the damage becomes unfixable. Trump is tired of the rest of the world expecting us to save them and then complaining loudly and endlessly when we do. He sees China as a serious rival and potential threat. Even when Trump swims in Birther waters, he makes it sound unremarkable — an incredulous exasperation with Obama’s secrecy and how little the country knew about him when they elected him.
But as I noted, the man was not too long ago in Oreo Double Stuff commercials with Darrell Hammond playing a Trump clone and then did a Star Wars-themed episode of “The Apprentice.” I suppose someone will inevitably compare it to Reagan’s performance in Bedtime for Bonzo, but Trump’s tabloid antics strike me as just about the polar opposite of “presidential” style and demeanor. Maybe the Trump surge is a short-lived expression of public distaste with Obama; maybe it’s an angry, ‘hey, yeah, we’d even prefer that guy over the guy who’s botching things now.”
Or maybe the country is changing, and the definition of “presidential” is changing as rapidly. I’m reminded of a piece I wrote in mid-2008, assessing the way Obama and his campaign embraced the celebrity image that McCain tried to mock: “The redesigned logo, the will.i.am video, the cover of men’s Vogue, his ability to be deemed one of the fittest men in America (despite the occasional cigarette), his Versace-dedicated line, the news that he regularly trades lengthy e-mails with Scarlett Johansson. . . . We get it, the guy is cooler than 99 percent of us will ever be.”
And then think of how Obama has behaved as president: “Since becoming president, Obama has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman, taped a question-and-answer promoting Conan O’Brien’s transition toThe Tonight Show, taped a promotion for George Lopez, taped a video for The Colbert Report, taped a prime-time special with Oprah, been the subject of an NBC News prime-time special, been the subject of an HBO documentary, grilled with Food Network star Bobby Flay, popped up in commercials during Thanksgiving football, and filled out his NCAA basketball tournament picks on ESPN and now, American Idol. (Again.) . . . He’s making Taylor Swift look obscure.”
And yet Obama bobs along in the polls, currently just under a 50-50 split in his approval rating. I figured at some point, America would find this grating, and silly, and a fundamental misreading of the duties and role of the presidency. But it doesn’t look like it has happened yet, and it may not happen.
Perhaps 2008 will be the last year “celebrity” is used as an epithet in a presidential campaign. Perhaps from here on out, it’s a requirement.