The other day, my computer Scrabble foe threw "bort" on the board. OK, that's a new one.
"[I]mperfectly crystallized diamond or diamond fragments used as an abrasive" is how the online dictionary has it. Sounds like The Donald; a zircon in the rough who's very abrasive.
He's been very much in the news as of late, having announced a presidential run and in frequently-wrong-but-never-in-doubt mode, making enough gaffes to have most candidates head to the exits, but those gaffes seem to be features rather than bugs to his fans, which put him in the lead in a number of national polls.
I'm not sure if that lead is courtesy of low-information voters going on name recognition and reputation as a brash real estate tycoon/celebrity early in a primary season, being a fresh face in politics compared to the known-but-lackluster recognizable names like Jeb Bush, or a large block of folks liking a nativist shoot-from-the-lip candidate. My distrust of the guy points to the first two, which indirectly insults the non-political-geeks among us, but the last option might hold more water that I'd like.
The CBC's house curmudgeon, Rex Murphy, makes a good living at not suffering fools gladly; he gives Trump both barrels and reloads here. "All that might derail him right now...is a declaration that Krusty the Clown has a release agreement from The Simpsons." Murphy blames the American polity for supporting a candidate that they deserve, getting a few too many easy shots at left-wing absurdities in the process.
Murphy notes a fellow National Post piece that does a more serious look at Trump, getting man-on-the-street quotes from Trump fans who like his unvarnished style. The piece also snags card 1 on the Poli-Sci section of a reporter's Rolodex, Larry Sabato, who noted that "there is a long history of flavor-of-the-month candidates grabbing attention in the early days of a campaign." Herman Cain filled that niche this time last go-round, and 2004's Howard Dean would be an example on the left.
It's been about 40 years since the movie Network, where a anchorman analogue to Murphy told viewers to open the window and holler "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" In the movie, the proto-O'Reilly boosted ratings. About halfway to the present, Bullworth took a seriocomic look at a gone-rogue liberal politician.
There is a market for shoot-from-the-lip populist politics on both sides of the aisle in real life. Ben Carson made a run of filling that niche for social conservatives this go-round, but there are no shortage of social conservatives with political chops in the race, so the ground is heavy sledding for the good doctor.
There's also a market for that style in the center. Jesse Ventura got elected governor in Minnesota by being a no-nonsense centrist blessed by the presence of two uninspiring major-party foes. Ross Perot was a bout of craziness away from getting to the White House in 1992 with a similar MO (without the pecs).
Perot would be a very good analogue to Trump in that they're both opinionated billionaires whose primary appeal is to ethnocentrism. For Perot in 1992, it was NAFTA's "giant sucking sound" drawing jobs south of that other border. For Trump in 2015, the vacuum cleaners are sucking folks northbound, drawing illegals in with the government playing catch-and-release with undocumented folks.
The analogies aren't perfect. Perot was moderate on the social issues of the day but had a no-drama personal life. Trump is similarly moderate, but far from being old-school with his love life and with a questionable grasp of theology to boot. Trump has even made himself a TV star by abusing would-be assistants in a game show.
However, both appealed to a nationalism that resonated with a redneck streak in folks. When conservative media play up the misdeeds of illegals in order to make the current administration look bad, it plays right into Trump's wheelhouse, as he seems to corner the immigration hawk market.
There hasn't been much coverage of Trump's past liberalism (this stretch in previous cycles had him fixin' to run down the center) or any skeletons in his financial closet. Liberals are happy to make Trump the poster boy for racist Republicans and certain folks on the right are happy to let him take point and make both Obama and more-internationalist Republicans look like girly-men in contrast.
However, at some point, folks will want to get past the easy rhetoric on China and Mexico and see what a Trump administration would look like. Trump has seemed to make a turn to the right, but has a lot of oppo-fodder to the contrary. Grabbing a pitchfork and sticking it into that pile of fodder should be forthcoming in due time.
Emphasis on should. It's not in too many candidates interest in pointing that out right now, as good campaigning in a cast-of-thousands race would focus on getting yourself introduced to the voters and differentiating yourself from the pack. Bashing another foe only works if you're competing for market share with him and may give collateral benefits to third parties; a Ted Cruz fanboy running ads against Trump might send voters to Walker and Rubio rather than Cruz. It also make swing voters actually like Trump more; poorly done attack ads can make you like the guy they're trying to savage if you can see through the cherry-picking of issues.
Thus, the attacks would only be viable for two sets of folks. One would be folks who really don't like Trump and are willing to spend money slowing him down. The other would be folks who also resonate with nativist voters (or folks who like Trump's style for other reasons) to both make Trump look bad and make him (or her, since Trump's business acumen dampens some of Carly Fiorina's appeal) look good.
We'll be having some debates coming up, where Trump can both shine with a string of well-placed one-liners but also be exposed in weaker areas.
Fred Thompson was doing well this time eight years ago, but was shown to be past his freshness date in the early debates of the 2008 cycle; like Trump, he's now making a living off of TV... as a pitchman for reverse mortgages. Rick Perry's brain-burps in debates derailed him last go-round. Trump might well meet that fate in the months to come, or he could prove to have enough legs to be a factor, either as a wild-card GOP nominee or a Perotesque third party candidate.
Both are troubling prospects, but high-teen poll numbers in July can evaporate quickly. We shall see.