Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Here's Chris Cillizza with the conventional wisdom about Donald Trump's likely presence in Republican presidential debates:
Trump on a stage with nine people who are serious about being the Republican nominee against Hillary Clinton is an absolute disaster for the GOP.
More Cillizza, from a few days ago:
Having Donald Trump on the Republican debate stage ... would be a total nightmare for the Republican Party.

Here's why: Donald Trump will say almost anything to get a rise out of people. He is in the entertainment business, a professional provocateur of some renown. The business he is not in, of course, is politics.

That's a big problem for a party desperately working to prove it is ready, willing and able to take the reins of government back from Democrats. The most important thing for Republicans to accomplish in this debate season is to show they are serious about governance and have ideas on how to do things better than Barack Obama has done over the past eight-ish years....

Trump has the potential to blow up those well-laid plans.
Does Trump have that potential? Could his debate performance really do serious damage to the image of the Republican Party?

I would love to think so. Unfortunately, it's not inevitable. You see, we know what happens when eccentrics and provocateurs get into debates, because we've seen it in the past. By Election Day, their debate presence really doesn't count for that much.

Have we already forgotten Jimmy McMillan, of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, who ran for mayor of New York in 2013 and governor of New York in 2010 and 2014? Here's a short highlight reel from a 2010 gubernatorial debate in which McMillan not only denounced the rent (for being too damn high) but also said cryptically, "As a karate expert, I will not talk about anyone up here," and, later, expressed broad-mindedness about non-traditional marriages ("Rent Is Too Damn High Party feels if you want to marry a shoe, I'll marry you").

McMillan was a diversion -- but he was a minor one at best. In the rest of the debate, the major-party candidates said what they came to say (and as you can see in the clip, Andrew Cuomo, the eventual winner of this race, deftly responded to McMillan by saying, "I'm with Jimmy -- the rent is too damn high"). By Election Day, McMillan was largely forgotten.

Also in 2010, there was Rachel Brown, a Lyndon LaRouche follower who'd made a name for herself by confronting Congressman Barney Frank at a town hall meeting:
... she held up a photo of Obama with a Hitler moustache and harangued Frank about Obamacare. “Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy, as Obama has expressly supported this policy,” she asked Frank. “Why are you supporting it?”
Brown went on to challenge Frank for the Democratic nomination, and eventually Frank did an hour-long debate with her:

I'll admit I've only watched bits of this. Brown's platform is a stew of progressivism (calling for the return of Glass-Steagall) and LaRouchy lunacy (at 14:40, she blames the Iraq War on the British Empire, because, well, LaRouchites blame most bad things on the British Empire). She compares President Obama to Nero in her opening statement -- not exactly how you win Democratic votes in Massachusetts.

Frank went on to win the primary handily, and the general election after that. And Brown was more or less forgotten -- though she reemerged as a candidate for the same congressional seat in 2012, when Frank was retiring, and got herself into a debate again. (The favorite, Joseph Kennedy III, won the primary and the general election.)

Now, granted, Brown and McMillan don't have Trump's money and aren't the performers Trump is, and state and local elections aren't like presidential contests.

But the last Republican presidential contest had its share of clowns. So ask yourself: If Michele Bachmann hadn't ranted about vaccines and Herman Cain hadn't incessantly chanted "9-9-9" and Rick Perry hadn't said "Oops," would Mitt Romney have beaten Barack Obama? I think Romney still would have lost. Romney lost it for Romney. Voters rejected Romney's platform and Romney the candidate. They didn't vote against Bachmann, Cain, and Perry in November 2012.

Trump's fellow candidates will chuckle at what he says, or just nod. Then they'll move on to their talking points. The debate moderators and the mainstream press will consider it their duty to present the GOP field apart from Trump as a set of serious, sober-sided potential Leaders of the Free World. Cillizza and Chuck Todd and Ron Fournier and their colleagues will insist that we focus our attention on the predictable things said by Bush and Rubio and Walker and Paul, and the coverage will be skewed accordingly.

So I think Trump will be fun, but he won't do nearly the damage I wish he would.


Victor said...

Trump is a media performance artist.
The rest of the GOP's candidates and potential candidates, are political performance artists.

And, yeah, sadly, I think you're right, Steve - Trump won't do near as much damage as we wish he would.

nonynony said...

The "damage" I see Trump potentially doing has everything to do with the popularity contest that the GOP is trying to use to restrict access to the debates. If Trump is polling high enough to knock someone else out of the debates that's going to cause some friction and could hopefully cause some intra-party knock-on infighting. That's the kind of trouble I'm thinking we can get from a Trump vanity run.

Damage from the actual debates will be nonexistent, except to the extent that "yet another looney" on the stage forces the top candidates into embracing stupid memes to court the crazybase. And, frankly, there are enough looneys among the voting base of the GOP at this point that that's going to happen whether Trump is up on stage or not.

(In my fondest dreams Trump sucks up enough air out of the room that King John Kasich from Ohio can't get his foot in the door. After watching Jeb! turn out to be possibly dumber than his brother, and Walker turn out to have the political chops of a pork chop, Kasich is about the only Republican I'm worried about. Though who knows? Throw him up on a stage with Ben Carson and Donald Trump and he might turn out to handle the inanity just as poorly as Walker and Jeb! have been managing...)

Steve M. said...

Kasich could be a dangerously electable general election candidate. But as I discovered when I was writing this post, much of the GOP base doesn't trust Kasich and many of the billionaires don't trust him either. As far as they're concerned, he's just too conciliatory.

Professor Chaos said...

I don't think most of the other Republican candidates are really "serious" about winning the White House either.

nonynony said...

I hope you're right Steve. It would warm my heart to see King John get booed off the stage by the GOP rabble.

Curt Purcell said...

The clown examples you cite from 2012 are basically just people saying stupid stuff that's mostly damaging to themselves. Trump could bluster aggressively in a way that puts other candidates awkwardly on the spot. He could force errors. I doubt he'll be a major factor in the campaign, but he'll add friction where party leaders and frontrunners would prefer smooth and easy. Even if he's not in the campaign long, he'll ruin a few days for other candidates. He'll aggravate some ulcers, and maybe even cause a few. That's worth something to me.

petrilli said...

I think that he's getting into the race so that none of the other candidates will ask him for money.

John Taylor said...

I would love to see the Donald in the debates but it probably won't happen. He'll drop out before he has to show his financials. The whole thing is just self-promotion for the Trump brand.

Unknown said...

John Taylor, why is that you think Trump "has to show his financials"? Mitt de Romney Georgeson didn't (or eventually did so in such an unconventional & unsatisfactory manner it amounted to much the same effect as just brazening it out).

Trump had 15 days from announcing to file his candidacy. First let's see if he does that. That may SEEM a perfunctory step, but in fact even just that holds SOME financial disclosure obligations (tho nothing a candidate with a even a measley million in campaign funding, leave aside a self-styled noctabillionaire, is going to find taxing).

Next, Trump's got to build and fund an organization within the several states where doing that has some potential effect on finding, building on and turning out Trump voters. I'd guess him to make a big splash, more likely several, over campaign organization hires, but the costs associated with those salaries are pretty minor in the scheme of things; the big money outflow is in grassroots, which I very much doubt Trump will spend on. We'll get to see that non-event happening, sure somewhat after the fact, off perusal of his mandatory filings on campaign expenses.

Then at some point during the extended pre-primaries debate faux wars and into the meat portion of the RNC regular primary season, Trump starts to have problems: he has business interests to attend to. Besides having to move constantly to keep from his doors the packs of bankruptcy attorney wolves that constantly stalk him (not a problem you'd expect any sort of ACTUAL billionaire to suffer from, but there you are), he has a TV show to produce, and he has foregone Fox pundit cash flow to replace (again: petty cash, one would think, to an ACTUAL billionaire, but, again, there you are).

If I were put a bet, it would be that Trump's out before the first primary after SC at the latest, more likely before even the first overall, in a positive flurry of colorized hair extensions amidst reports of 'concerns' being expressed about he quality of his campaign's latest financial disclosure.

Otherwise, I'm almost entirely with Steve M.'s take - expect that I think that every candidate polling within the GOP faithful higher than Trump plus the GOP itself will consider his involvement to have been a net positive for getting rid of the minnows.

Pops said...

I believe the candidate who smacks Trump down, somebody will, gets the GOP nomination. Except Christie. He can smack Trump down, you know one Fat Bully smacking anotherer Bully. Fat Bully wins but is just that. A Fat Bully. nd a loser.

trnc said...

Repubs definitely have a knack for walking away relatively unscathed from the crapstorms they create, but I'm not sure the examples of McMillan or Brown really apply here. How many voters had heard of either of them before they ran for office? Trump has been a household name for 30 years. I typed Do into google a few minutes ago and it auto-filled Donald Trump, and I've never done any search on him before. He pushed former republican candidates out of the top ten in some polls as soon as he announced.

I think he starts out with the ability to make his competition a lot more uncomfortable than McMillan and Brown made theirs.

Unknown said...

In my opinion Trump coming in, as he is, at this point, is absolutely yoooge, most probably. It's unclear at this stage exactly how yoooge: it could be mega yoooge, could be medium average yoooge, or could be in that Trump sweet spot between those two. But it's most definitely not at all small potatoes, loserville, minor leagues yoooge; absolutely, it'll be some level of world-class yoooge, that's a guarantee.

David said...

If people are wondering what kind of damage Trump can do, just try excluding him from the debates. I think Trump will create massive damage if the haters try anything funny....Trump has more money than God and knows people in ever circle in the world to exact lethal revenge to the peril of many haters.