Politics & Policy

Fifteen Elephants and a Clown

Trump promoting Think Big and Kick Ass in 2007. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty)
The Donald’s life has been seven decades of buffoonery.

If there was a good reason to distrust presidential candidate Mitt Romney, it had to do with his views on abortion. Not his position per se — as difficult as it is to understand the pro-choice tendency, there are people of good faith on both sides of the abortion question — but the fact that he arrived at that position so late in life and at a moment when his change of heart was politically convenient. Even if we assume that this was not simple cowardly political calculation, as in the matter of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama’s evolving views on gay marriage, the situation must give us pause: If a man hasn’t figured out what he believes about abortion by the age of 50 — after having been a father, a governor, a business leader, and an influential figure in an important religious congregation — it may be the case that he is not ready for the responsibilities of the presidency.

Donald Trump is looking at 70 candles on his next birthday cake, and his mind is, when it comes to the issues relevant to a Republican presidential candidate, unsettled.

If you are looking for a good reason to quit the Republican party (as I did some years ago), you can start with the company you are obliged to keep in the GOP: At the moment, about one in five Republicans are rallying to the daft banner of Donald Trump, heir to a splendid real-estate fortune and reality-show grotesque, who is a longtime supporter of, among other Democratic potentates, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who remains, for the moment, the candidate against whom the Republican nominee presumably will run. (Herself’s struggles are for the moment only an amusement, though they may someday prove to be serious.)

Trump has moved between the parties a number of times, but on the issues he is at home with the party of his good friend Chuck Schumer: He is pro-abortion, he has proposed punitive taxes on the wealthy, he favors a Canadian-style government health-care monopoly, etc. A lifelong crony capitalist, he is an enthusiastic partisan of the thieving Kelo regime, under which government can seize private property in the name of “economic development” — for instance, throwing retirees out of their paid-for homes to make room for a casino-hotel with a large “T” on the façade. Until the day before yesterday, he took an indulgent view toward normalizing the status of illegal immigrants, perhaps mindful of the fact that Trump Tower was built in part by illegal-immigrant labor and that one of his associates was in fact jailed over the matter.

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For the moment, Trump’s leading critic in the Republican field is former Texas governor Rick Perry, whose most famous public utterance is “Oops!” but who is Cicero next to Trump, Hyperion to a satyr. That Trump and Perry are received roughly as equals on the national stage is absurd, but politics thrives on absurdity. Perry has, to put it plainly, the best record of any modern American governor. Trump has celebrity and a knack for getting out in front of a parade, in this case ghoulishly grandstanding upon the corpse of Kathryn Steinle, a telegenic young white woman who was murdered by Francisco Sanchez, a Mexican illegal who had been deported five times and who apparently used a gun belonging to a federal agent in the killing. Trump has not offered even the outline of a serious program for stanching the flow of illegal immigrants, but he makes authoritative grunting sounds in the general direction of the southern border, which apparently is sufficient for one in five Republican voters. While the border crisis is indeed a national emergency, Trump makes it less likely rather than more likely that the federal power will be roused to do its duty, a fact to which Trump’s camp apparently is indifferent. It has fallen to the newly professorial Perry to instruct these idiot children, while the other candidate from Texas, Senator Ted Cruz, has mainly engaged in a sad me-too appeal to the Trump element. The contrast is telling, and is a reminder that Senator Cruz, for all his many attractive qualities, is a tyro.

Trump has moved between the parties a number of times, but on the issues he is at home with the party of his good friend Chuck Schumer.

The Trumpkins insist that this isn’t about Trump but about the perfidious Republican establishment, which is insufficiently committed to the conservative project. Fair enough. But what of Trump’s commitment? Being at the precipice of his eighth decade walking this good green earth, Trump has had a good long while to establish himself as a leader on — something. He isn’t a full-spectrum conservative, but he seems to have conservative-ish instincts on a few issues. What has he done with them? There are many modes of leadership available to the adventurous billionaire: Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who is the less famous and more competent version of Trump, is directly involved in campaigns, while Charles and David Koch have engaged in electoral politics and done the long-term (and probably more consequential) work of nurturing a stable of institutions dedicated to advancing the cause of liberty, and Bill Gates has put his billions behind his priorities. Trump has made some political donations — to Herself, to Harry Reid, to Nancy Pelosi, to Schumer — and his defense is that these were purely self-serving acts of influence-purchasing rather than expressions of genuine principle. There is no corpus of Trump work on any issue of any significance; on his keystone issue, illegal immigration, he has not even managed to deliver a substantive speech, a deficiency no doubt rooted in his revealed inability to voice a complete sentence.

#related#Donald Trump, who inherited a real-estate empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars from his father, has had every opportunity to involve himself in the consequential questions of his time. He has been a very public figure for decades, with a great deal of time, money, celebrity, business connections, and other resources to put in the service of something that matters. Seventy years in, and his curriculum vitae is remarkably light on public issues for a man who would be president. One would think that a life spent in public might inspire at least a smidgen of concern about the wide world. He might have had any sort of life he chose, and Trump chose a clown’s life. There is no shortage of opportunities for engagement, but there is only one thing that matters to Trump, and his presidential campaign, like everything else he has done in his seven decades, serves only that end.

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