Here’s how to keep track of the top two contenders, according to a recent CNN poll, for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination: Only one of them has his own signature brand of chocolates.
Mike Huckabee, the brandless and downscale former governor of Arkansas, can’t help but feel outclassed when he compares himself with his nearest rival, the tornado of noise and hair that is Donald J. Trump.
Trump has it all: a television show, helicopters, buildings, bottled water, resorts, a clothing line, a home-furnishings collection, hotels, casinos, and, oddly, his own brand of tea. (You don’t think of Trump as a tea drinker, do you?) He’s an unstoppable licensing machine, and has his name on more things than a Central Asian dictator — he floods the zone with Trump-this and Trump-that, until it almost doesn’t matter whether he’s as rich as he says he is or as brilliant at business, because once you get to the Trump tea and the Trump dining-room set, it’s all so exhausting you’re ready to accept the Trump version of Trump without debate.
Donald J. Trump is an unembarrassable self-love machine. A relentless name-stamper. A roaring glutton for credit and praise. In other words, Donald J. Trump possesses, along with his resorts and his chocolates, everything it takes to be president of the United States.
Whatever you can say about Donald J. Trump — he’s a malignant narcissist; he’s a serial fantasist; he’s a bad credit risk; he’s a shameless self-promoter — you can also say about almost every single member of the United States Senate. What is the Senate, after all, but a 100-member collection of Trumpy egos, Trumpy bluster, and Trumpy hairdos? And whatever you can say about Donald J. Trump — he’s childishly needful of attention; he’s hilariously ignorant of world affairs; he’s awfully free-spending when it’s someone else’s money — you can also say about most of the men who have served as president of the United States.
What none of those mini-Trumps had, though, is the maxi-Trump’s instinct for public attention. Trump is a practitioner of the Me Everywhere school of marketing — the goal of which is to be always in the spotlight, always in the news, and to use that attention as leverage in his Trump-name licensing deals. Lending his name to a resort development fetches a higher price if his television show is popular (it is), and his television show’s popularity helps plump up book sales, which in turn gets him media attention, which drives up his presidential buzz, which makes his show more popular and his name more valuable, which sells (presumably) more Trump Vegas condos and boxes of Trump tea.
In this perfectly efficient system, no amount of attention or notoriety is ever really harmful — not the past financial trouble, not the Dairy Queen twist of hair on his head — because all of it can be used to recharge the batteries of Donald J. Trump. Nothing is ever shameful or embarrassing. Every shred of media attention gets used to drive a higher price for some piece of the Trump Universe. On good days, I guess, it helps him make better deals with creditors and shareholders. On less good days, it probably just moves some chocolate. Either way, Trump is making money.
The sophisticated crowd may be appalled at his grasping tackiness, but Trump knows what they don’t — “tacky” is a word that has no meaning in America in 2011. In fact, “tacky” may never have meant anything — America, after all, was built partly by blowhards and foghorns like Donald J. Trump. What is unspeakably low-rent on Tuesday — tattoos, illegitimacy, the word “anyways” — becomes acceptably normal by Thursday. The folks at NPR and The New Yorker don’t know that. Trump does.
Which is why the signature issue of the Donald J. Trump ’12 campaign seems to be, for now, the exact location of Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Trump, to be blunt, is a “birther” — one of those folks who simply cannot be convinced that Barack Obama was born on American soil.
Well, that’s not quite fair. The quintessential aspect of most birthers is their total refusal to express an opinion about that one way or another. “I’m just asking — where’s the birth certificate?” they usually say, voices fluttering in disingenuous bafflement. “I mean, where is it?”
“Are you saying that you think Obama’s not constitutionally qualified to be president of the United States?”
“I’m not saying that. I’m not saying anything. I’m just saying, where is it? That’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying anything. I’m just saying.”
It doesn’t seem like a very Trump-like plank. What you might expect from a Donald J. Trump is a robust denunciation of the Obama Debt. Or a fierce America Firstism. Or, maybe, a tax-cutting crusade. Birtherism seems like a low-class neighborhood from which to base the political rise of Donald J. Trump.
And yet: There are lots of people in America who do, actually, want to know where the birth certificate is, and, for now, following the strategy of Me Everywhere, that’s a great place to start the ball rolling. No serious political figure in America is taking up the birther crusade — it’s tacky, for one thing — but then, no serious political figure in America has his own brand of neckties. And that makes it a perfect issue for Donald J. Trump. The Trump rule is: First, grab the spotlight; then, monetize.
Donald J. Trump is a man of mystery, of course, and we have no way of knowing whether he’s really running for president or just trying to sell some home furnishings. I’d submit that he doesn’t know, either, for sure. It may make financial sense, down the line, to actually make a run for it — think of the licensing! think of the Trump Presidential Seal on golf towels and pain relievers! — and spend some time monetizing the Oval Office. On the other hand, it’s a time-consuming and inefficient use of the Trump name, which goes so effortlessly on buildings and men’s suits and gold-bar-shaped chocolates.
They come in three flavors, by the way. Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and my favorite, deluxe nut.
Deluxe nut. Which I think might make a wonderful Secret Service code name, should it come to that.