Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Trump - No Palin or Regan - maybe Perot?
Donald Trump doesn't give a damn
By JOE SCARBOROUGH | 4/5/11 4:42 AM EDT
Throughout his remarkable political career, elites regularly treated former President Ronald Reagan as though he were a badly told political joke.
Reagan rankled the sensibilities of the polite political crowd when he fought the transfer of the Panama Canal during his 1976 campaign for president: “We bought it, we paid for it, it is sovereign U.S. territory, and we should keep it.”
That position simultaneously horrified the foreign policy community and revived the former governor’s political fortunes.
A decade later, Reagan’s support for a missile defense shield was ridiculed as science fiction, even as it brought Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s negotiators to their knees.
Presidential biographer Richard Reeves wrote that throughout Reagan’s political career, he “was dismissed as a lightweight with no strategy.” It was a misperception that the former actor exploited time and again.
During the 1966 Republican primary, supporters of California’s legendary governor Pat Brown sent money to Reagan because they were certain the aging actor would be chewed up and spit out in the general election. Reagan shocked Brown when he became a popular two-term governor.
“Hardball” host and Carter administration alum Chris Matthews remembers former President Jimmy Carter’s White House celebrating the night Reagan won the GOP nomination in 1980 — also certain that the doddering old actor would be destroyed by Carter.
But on election night, Washington was stunned as results poured in proclaiming the launch of the so-called Reagan Revolution. By the time ABC news anchor Frank Reynolds grumbled, “What the hell is going on here?” Reagan was on his way to winning more than 90 percent of the electoral votes.
The disconnect between Washington’s view of Reagan and America’s perception of him bears repeating in a year when so many GOP candidates are being showered with contempt by a new generation of Washington elites. As former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin fades from sight, Donald Trump has become the latest target of stinging political headlines.
The New York Times’s Gail Collins wrote a column last weekend titled “Donald Trump Gets Weirder,” in which she argues that Trump is the loopiest guy in the GOP field.
Business Insider published an article titled “The 7 Most Ridiculous Things Donald Trump Has Said in the Last Two Weeks.”
But the most telling critique came from Fox News’s Glenn Beck, who told Bill O’Reilly that Trump’s public statements are beginning to make him uncomfortable.
When your political rhetoric shocks a man who believes the rise of the Antichrist could be ushered in by President Barack Obama’s agenda, it might be time to refocus your communications strategy.
But Trump clearly doesn’t give a damn what polite society thinks of his presidential prospects. While former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels work assiduously to be seen as serious challengers to Obama, Trump keeps doubling down on the birther controversy and spitting out policy prescriptions that would horrify most Washington strategists. I called Trump last Friday to see if he would back off his claim that the president of the United States might be constitutionally prohibited from holding his office. “I’m not finished with that issue by any stretch of the imagination,” Trump told me. “You mock me for that, but his own grandmother says he was born in Kenya and says she was there.”
The New York real estate mogul didn’t stop with questions about the birth certificate. Trump also claimed the president’s first book was ghostwritten by a domestic terrorist. “Bill Ayers wrote ‘Dreams From My Father,’” Trump told me. “I have no doubt about it. That first book was total genius and helped get him elected. But you can tell Obama did the second book himself because it read like it was written by somebody of average intelligence with a high school education.”
For Trump, the theory feeds into his belief that Obama is unfit to be president.
“He is the most overrated guy. It’s unbelievable. Obama is worse than Jimmy Carter, and I put Carter at the head of the pack for bad presidents.”
Trump was no kinder to former President George W. Bush, dismissing him as “horrible for America, because there is a disunity in this country that we have never seen. That began with Bush.”
When he’s not focused on what he sees as Obama’s personal shortcomings, Trump could be mistaken, at times, for a traditional conservative candidate.
Like former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Daniels, Trump promises to confront America’s debt crisis. Like Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Trump wants to remove U.S. troops from overseas entanglements. “We can’t be the policemen of the world,” he told me.
But when I asked about his energy policy, I was again reminded that there is only one Donald Trump. “We need to seize Iraq’s oil fields,” Trump brashly said in a statement that seemed to channel Reagan’s logic regarding the Panama Canal. “Oil is going to be at an all-time high, and when we leave Iraq, the Iranians will seize their oil within 15 minutes,” he said. “Iran is already making moves. They won’t even have to fire a bullet.” The Donald says a Trump administration would never let that happen.
“We spent $1.5 trillion on the Iraq War. Besides, if we don’t seize the oil fields, then all of the soldiers we lost in Iraq would have died in vain.” This is not how serious presidential candidates are supposed to talk. This is not how respectable policy leaders are supposed to think. But anyone who believes political commentators’ scorn for Trump will keep him from winning the Republican nomination need only read the nasty things Washington’s wise men said about Reagan in 1979.
That is not to say that Trump is Reagan. He is not. But he isn’t Palin either. That means a run by the New York billionaire would shake up politics in a way not seen since Ross Perot sought the nation’s highest office in 1992.