After Donald Trump’s bizarre announcement last week that he was running for president, it occurred to me that many observers are misreading Trump.
Many consider him a joke. Not true. Trump knows when he is being outrageous — and acts that way consciously to build his brand. Some consider him a menace, pointing out polls that show he would do well if he abandoned the GOP after the primaries and ran as an independent. But Trump is too smart to waste money on a futile effort to capture 270 electoral votes. He will conclude — like Michael Bloomberg, another billionaire — that American politics is a two-party duopoly.
But just maybe Trump is a double agent for the Left. He is nearly a cartoon version of what a comedian such as Stephen Colbert considers a conservative — the kind of conservative Colbert played on Comedy Central until this year. He reinforces all the Left’s negative stereotypes of conservatives as ignorant blowhards. During his announcement speech last week, Trump said of Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.” Offered a chance to expand on his remarks on MSNBC, Trump said:
They’re sending us not their finest people. And it’s people from countries other than Mexico also. We have drug dealers coming across, we have rapists, we have killers, we have murderers. I mean it’s common sense — what, do you think they’re going to send us their best people, their finest people? The answer is no.
Trump’s comments led the news in the Spanish-language media, prompting Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post to observe that Trump might singlehandedly “keep the Republican Party out of the White House.”
Donald Trump seems eager to alienate sane voters by embracing conspiracy theories wherever he can find them.
Indeed, Donald Trump seems eager to alienate sane voters by embracing conspiracy theories wherever he can find them. He sees links between autism and pharmaceutical companies. He revived “birtherism” in 2011 when he declared he didn’t believe Barack Obama had been born in the U.S. The birther movement, let’s recall, was originally driven by some of Hillary Clinton’s liberal supporters. Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported that in April 2008, “an anonymous email circulated by supporters of Mrs Clinton, Mr Obama’s main rival for the party’s nomination, thrust a new allegation into the national spotlight — that he had not been born in Hawaii.” The first lawsuit to make birther claims was filed by Phil Berg, a Democratic attorney and a Hillary Clinton supporter. When Trump revved up birtherism again in 2011, it distracted attention from real Obama scandals and made conservatives who bought into it look ridiculous.
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Trump’s flights of fancy go far beyond birtherism, though. He has on several occasions said his preferred vice-presidential running mate would be Oprah Winfrey, telling ABC News this month: “I think Oprah would be great. I’d love to have Oprah. I think we’d win easily, actually.”
In reality, Donald Trump simply flies his own flag of convenience as the head of the Opportunist Party. As a businessman seeking political access, he could be excused for making occasional contributions such as the ones he made to former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. But through the last presidential election, a majority of his political contributions went to Democrats. And then there is Trump’s decision to declare himself a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2009. He explained to the New York Daily News that he did so because he didn’t like George W. Bush and because “most of the politicians I know are Democrats.”
Indeed, all that hanging around Democrats really rubbed off on him. In a 2000 book, he declared “we must have universal health care” and said it should look a lot like Canada’s system: “Doctors might be paid less than they are now, as is the case in Canada, but they would be able to treat more patients because of the reduction in their paperwork.” As recently as last year, Trump was still praising single-payer medical systems overseas.
At the same time that he was plumping for single-payer health care in 2000, Trump called for a one-time 14.25 percent net-worth tax on individuals and trusts with a net worth of over $10 million. He has also called for a 20 percent tax on importing goods. All this has led talk-show host Glenn Beck to declare: “Donald Trump is a progressive. He’s not a conservative.”
Trump is also one of America’s premier crony capitalists. In 2005, Trump was asked his opinion of the Supreme Court’s controversial Kelo decision, which allowed public authorities to seize private land and turn it over to private interests for “economic development.” He told Fox News: “I happen to agree with [the decision] 100 percent.”
Small wonder. In one of many notorious examples of eminent-domain abuse, in the 1990s Trump fixed his sights on the home of Vera Coking, an elderly homeowner whose tiny house in Atlantic City stood in the way of a planned limousine parking lot next to a Trump casino. John Stossel, who interviewed Trump about the Coking case for ABC News, told me: “Trump blathered on about how roads and public hospitals would never be built without eminent domain, but he was stumped when I pointed out he was seizing buildings for private business use. He simply didn’t understand the difference.” When Stossel accused Trump of being a bully to Coking, he was told by the billionaire off-camera, “Nobody talks to me that way!” But, Stossel concluded, “someone should.”
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The Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm that successfully staved off Trump’s efforts to seize Coking’s home, explained the Trump MO:
Unlike most developers, Donald Trump doesn’t have to negotiate with a private owner when he wants to buy a piece of property, because a governmental agency — the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority or CRDA — will get it for him at a fraction of the market value, even if the current owner refuses to sell.
Actually, I don’t believe Trump is a double agent acting in the interests of liberals to discredit conservatism. But (to borrow some phrasing from Trump’s conspiracy vocabulary), he is playing the useful idiot for the Left. He might as well be doing it on purpose.
— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for National Review Online.