Politics & Policy

Trump’s Unlikely Story

Trump on the campaign trail in Charlotte, N.C., August 19, 2016. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
This isn’t a campaign — it’s psychotherapy.

Many journalists are frustrated novelists and screenwriters. Others are attracted to literary and cinematic writing for the expanded creative horizons and the possibility of a big payday.

Imagine pitching Trump for President to Miramax. They’d laugh you out of the office: Even for the people who brought you the oeuvre of Quentin Tarantino, From Dusk till Dawn, and Trainspotting, some stories are just too ugly and unlikely.

And, besides, they already put out The Grifters.

Trump has just fired his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who, if recently unearthed documents are to be believed, is in the pocket of pro-Moscow oligarchs in Ukraine. Reports the New York Times: “Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from [former president Viktor] Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau.” Desks rose a few inches in the oubliettes of the Internal Revenue Service at that news, surely.

There is also a criminal investigation under way regarding an $18 million sale of Ukrainian cable-television operations to “a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.”

(We must be thankful to the editors of the Times for scrupulously including that middle-initial V, so as not to confuse the Russian president with all those other Vladimir Putins in the news. I am reminded of the Swedish guitarist Yngwie J. Malmsteen.)

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That Manafort may be linked to the Muscovite cartel is hardly disqualifying among Trump’s enthusiastic neo-nationalist followers — President Putin, who likes to show off his bare chest and have his critics assassinated, is their model of what a good leader looks like, literally and figuratively.

Manafort’s replacement, however, must make them nervous.

Kellyanne Conway, a regular on “the shows,” as Trump likes to put it (here meaning the likes of Hannity and Real Time with Bill Maher), is a pollster by trade, a veteran of the Wirthlin Group and Frank Luntz’s outfit. Trump used to like to talk — and tweet — about the polls a great deal but has been notably circumspect on the subject since they have shown Hillary Rodham Clinton beating him like a redheaded stepchild. Getting a pollster to help with your poll numbers is a little like getting a PET-scan tech to treat your cancer, but Trump assures us that he hires only the best people . . . even if they seem to have short careers on his campaign staff.

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Trump put himself on the political radar by making a dramatic ruckus about illegal immigration, and, even if his campaign bark has been somewhat more vigorous than his policy bite (Trump has long supported a de facto amnesty for illegals), even those of us who fully appreciate what a lying, disreputable, dishonest, dishonorable, unfit, vulgar, despicable, embarrassing con artist he is should be able to acknowledge that he has at the very least done a service by hammering the wishy-washy Republican party over the head on that issue, reminding it that there is a wrath worse than that of the Chamber of Commerce.

Except . . . His new campaign boss was a lobbyist for amnesty.

#share#The Gang of Eight immigration-reform bill — the millstone around Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential ambitions — should have been embraced as “good electoral politics for Republicans,” according to a memo Conway authored during the debate, because “most Americans don’t believe deportation is a viable policy.” She argued that enacting an amnesty for illegals would help Republicans with the 25 percent of Hispanic voters who were undecided in the next election. She worked for amnesty on behalf of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, no friend of conservatives, and his pro-amnesty organization.

“Pshaw!” the Trumpkins will scoff, “Conway’s just the hired help. It’s the man in charge who really matters.”

The problem with that line of argument is that Conway was, if anything, a little late to the party. Trump himself was supporting amnesty before she wrote that memo; depending on what day you ask him, he still supports some form of amnesty today, though his statements about that subject, as with all subjects, are vague, contradictory, and frequently dishonest.  

Personnel is policy, as they say: Trump also has hired Goldman Sachs alumnus Stephen Bannon to help him rail against Wall Street.

We should consider the possibility that Donald Trump is not really running a presidential campaign at all.

We should consider the possibility that Donald Trump is not really running a presidential campaign at all — that this is not politics, but psychotherapy. Trump has always been a figure of fun among those whose respect he most craves — the New York business community and the editors of the New York Times – and he obviously desires to be something more than a reality-television grotesque: a figure of significance. His presidential campaign is his bid for self-actualization, and it has taken along a great many gullible and credulous people — and a major political party — for the ride.

There is in the South an expression, “waving the bloody shirt,” which derives from a legendary episode involving a Massachusetts congressman displaying the tattered, gory garment of a thrashed Ku Klux Klan victim during a speech before the House of Representatives. (It’s a good story, but it never actually happened.) Trump doesn’t know much, but he does know showmanship, and he knew when to wave the bloody shirt and whose to wave: the one belonging to murder victim Kathy Steinle, killed by an illegal alien who was a seven-time felon. Presidencies have been built on less.

But anybody who believes that Trump is sincere in his beliefs — which change by the minute — is a sucker.

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If you want a good indicator of how unserious Trump is and what his real motives are, consider that even as he is losing in practically every swing state, many by large margins, he announced last week his intent to concentrate on . . . Connecticut. Connecticut hasn’t gone Republican since 1988, it’s as Democratic as New Jersey and Massachusetts, and Trump is well behind Clinton in the polls there, unable even to break 40 percent. Connecticut has a grand total of seven votes in the Electoral College, meaning that it would be a very small prize even if it were won. It is, however, home to a great many New York City moneymen and assorted magnates, poobahs, and tycoons. (British tax refugee Keith Richards has long lived in a quiet country home there.) It’s also a place where Trump can campaign and still sleep in his own gilded bed at night, and perhaps pop in for dinner at Jean Georges.

#related#A milquetoast Manhattan progressive reinvents himself as an angry nationalist, surrounds himself with a whole Chalmun’s Cantina worth of exotic and sundry cretins and oddities, and then, after securing the Republican nomination, refuses to run an actual presidential campaign, spending more money on payments to his own hotels than on actual politicking: According to Rebecca Sinderbrand of the Washington Post, he spent more on Mar-a-Lago expenses in the past month alone than on his first campaign-ad buy.

That’s a story that’s too unlikely for Hollywood. On Planet Trump, truth is stranger than fiction.


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