The 2016 election was a bit… strange. OK, it was VERY strange! Perhaps stranger than anything else in our lifetime! Today, we will look at just one of the Stranger Things. Specifically, how did Donald Trump win enough votes to become President without any clear history of Conservative, Liberal or any other recognizable political beliefs? Or was this a carefully developed plan to keep his beliefs hidden? And that’s the subject of today’s blog!
In 2016, Donald Trump was a major figure in New York City, a self-professed billionaire (still waiting for those tax returns!), a very recognizable real estate brand, a casino operator, a television celebrity, promoter of famous (or infamous) products, and a frequent guest on popular (if not mainstream) talk shows like the Howard Stern show. Yet, despite all his national visibility, Trump left virtually no political footprint.
In the process of becoming a Presidential candidate, you make public a lot of statements and you tell the world about your political beliefs. Once public, they are set into the concrete we call “major media coverage”, and exist forever, just a Google away. Members of the Republican OR Democratic party MUST work their way up the political ladder and pay their dues, long before running for the highest office in the land. In order to attract the support you need to keep moving up, you need to attract reporter and news stories. That leaves a big footprint on the political landscape.
Occasionally, someone rich and famous enters politics for some very specific personal benefit. A local political office, like a seat on a zoning board. This allows them to gain some advantage for some property they own, while still remaining relatively anonymous. Likewise, taking a position in a private or government regulatory group, such as the National Dairy Council, could give you a great deal of power and anonymity, assuming that all of your interest are very confined to all things Dairy-ish.
But the National stage is different. You need issues. Big issues that are interesting to enough voters to get you elected. It could be housing, education, the military, agriculture. There are a lot of big issues out there. A candidate from a religious background might tell us how they are concerned about the nation’s morality. Military officers can be a legitimate voice for improved international security.
Regardless of the theme, a politician who seeks national office also seeks ever-larger forums to announce their views…. reporters, talk radio, articles, youtube. You want your views to be heard, and you want to leave behind a record of those views.
But not Trump.
Trump has been interviewed many times since he became “a thing” in the 1980s. His first big interview, with Tom Browkow in 1980, may have said it all. Brokaw asked, “Mr. Trump, what’s left in your life? You’re 33 years old, you’ve got all this money.” Trump’s response was, “I just want to keep busy and keep active and be interested in what I do. That’s all there is to life as far as I’m concerned.” That really does seem to everything there is to say about Trump.
Consider his career. He is a very well known Real Estate developer, but aside from some disagreements with local politicians, we’ve heard little about his politics. He was a Television Celebrity, but there we only learned that he loves beautiful women and money. Was this the result of a decades-long plan to eventually run for the Whitehouse? Or did he just never think very much about national politics and international issues?
What we can tell is that he was focused on New York City and on his properties. New Jersey came up a lot, but only when he had a casino. Florida is in his thoughts, but those thoughts were mostly about golf and his favorite getaway in Florida, Maralago. International travel? No surprise, he mostly travels where there is Golf or a property deal.
Trump didn’t belong to the Republican or the Democratic parties, but he publically supported Hilary Clinton. Does that mean that he is a rich, liberal Democrat at heart? Probably not, since he ran as a conservative Republican. Yet even as a Republican, he has been firmly against key Republican issues, like free trade and globalization. Free trade and globalization are the bedrock of the modern “Ronald Regan” Republicanism. Before the 2016 election, this was sacred ground for the Republican party.
But Trump has a Foundation, right? That must mean something! The Trump Foundation was created to “distribute proceeds” from his best-selling book, “The Art of the Deal”. It was shut down in 2017 by the New York State Attorney General’s office due to mishandling of money. When it was alive, it wasn’t active and Donald Trump had not personally contributed for more than a decade. We’re not going to find much insight here.
Trump’s most famous book, “The Art of the Deal” was a bestseller, but it’s “ghostwriter”, Tony Schwartz tells us that Trump didn’t write any of it (he just answered questions), and it is a fraud. Many ghostwriters actually write the entire book on their own. The fraud that Schwarts is pointing to is about an investigative piece by the New York Time, which found that Trump’s wealth comes from money illegally transferred to Donald Trump by father, not from the financial triumphs of Donald Trump. The book is fiction. According to a number of other ghostwriters, Trump never wrote those and they too are… shall we say aspirational rather than factual?
Undoubtedly, many biographies are similarly “unauthentic”. But Trump’s books will not tell us much about who Trump is. Which is how he entered the 2016 election as a political enigma, a blank canvas where others could project their hopes and dreams.
Could. For the last couple of years, Donald Trump has been making up for lost time and telling the world what he thinks, while those who know him have been sharing stories of the “True Trump”. As a result We have become used to news stories that begin with, “The President of the United States” and end with “porn star”. Sometimes more than one porn star.
That’s a problem for some supporters. Like Evangelical Conservatives. They felt that Trump could leave his past behind him… and they could forget about the divorces, flashes of anger and profanity, the petty personality, the massive ego, the scandals… and become a political leader. Or not. Every year Trump gets more… Trumpy… not less. In 2020 Christian supoporters need to choose between their public beliefs (blessed are the meek, the Bible, Jesus) and their desire for power (much less Jesus-like).
Ironically, Trump’s beliefs may not matter. In 2016 Trump ran against a candidate that a lot of people love to hate, Hillary Clinton. More than a few pundits tell us that many voters didn’t so much vote for Trump, as they voted against Hillary Clinton!
Michale Moore, a staunch Trump opponent, predicted that Trump would win because, “Hillary… is hugely unpopular — nearly 70% of all voters think she is untrustworthy and dishonest. She represents the old way of politics, not really believing in anything other than what can get you elected…. the kids don’t like her, and not a day goes by that a millennial doesn’t tell me they aren’t voting for her… The enthusiasm just isn’t there.”
If Hillary Clinton runs in 2020, Trump just might win by default. But against anyone else… ANYONE ELSE… it’s a different election. In the last election, Trump was the contrarian. He pointed out flaws in everyone else’s policies. But no one could nail down what Trump believed in or planned to do once in office. Trump even said he had several “Secret Plans”, but never revealed them. Here are a few of his campaign promises:
- Renegotiate NAFTA: The new deal, the USMCA, was signed by the Presidents of the US, Canada, and Mexico in 2018. But it was not been ratified by the US.
- The Wall: Mexico would pay for a wall to keep immigrants out of the US.
- Healthcare: He said that it would be easy to draft a better healthcare plan than the one Obama put in place. And a cinch to get everyone to vote for it.
- Iran: Obama’s “nuke” deal with Iran was “the worst deal ever”. It only stopped nuclear development for 10 years. Trump would immediately stop it, forever, and as a bonus stop all missile development.
- Industry: Trump will make more industrial jobs than ever before in history.
With policies attached to his name, it’s going to be a very different campaign. Undoubtedly, he will Can Trump continue to attack his opponent’s policies (as every politician does), but can he defend? We know that he hates being asked questions in press conferences, how will he react to reporters questioning him about his Presidency? Will the debates be carefully monitored and controlled or will the candidates face off directly with each other. Will Trump even agree to a debate?
Trump may be many things, but now he supports many things. He has backed policies. He is now the Trump you know, and not just “the other Candidate”. What do you think? Has the last couple of years been the Presidency you hoped for, or are you looking for a new candidate? Tell us what you think!