I spent this past weekend visiting family and friends in the wilds of western Pennsylvania, and made a deliberate point of avoiding any and all forms of news. I drank some Yuengling, went to a birthday party and a bonfire, and was happily unplugged from the doings of the world. Despite my best efforts to avoid the news, however, a sound kept insinuating itself into my consciousness, a low noise, like a heartbeat across the landscape.
Covering the hog trough of national politics on a daily basis can be a grueling, thankless, soul-sucking task, but it is moments like this that make me love my job right down to my socks. The 2012 presidential election already promises to be an exercise in bedlam, but if Donald Trump follows through on the interesting noises he has been making to date, the election will bend absurdity into bold new shapes.
Stick your nose into the air and smell the panic emanating from RNC headquarters. It is bad enough that they have to contend with potential presidential runs by the likes of Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Now they're staring down the barrel of a full-fledged freak storm, a demented slapstick comedy starring The Donald as The Donald in “The Donald.” I feel a deep and overwhelming compulsion to go to church every day this week, light a candle each time, and pray until I'm sweating blood that this actually happens.
Seriously. Oh please oh please oh please oh please oh please let this happen. It is already wildly entertaining today, and can only get better if Trump actually jumps into the race. He has gone over the high side at top volume regarding the “birther” issue, which has pleased the berserk GOP base to such a degree that he is blowing away the entire potential Republican presidential field, and now leads the pack by as much as nine points in the latest poll.
Here in Boston, the rumblings of a potential Trump run are already making waves for Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and presumed top contender for the Republican nomination. The front page of the Boston Herald – a paper famous for using exclamation points in all of its headlines – had Trump's mug plastered all over the front page on Tuesday morning, and he was not shy about throwing a few darts into Mitt's hide:
The Donald is maybe, potentially, sorta throwing his hat into the ring for a 2012 GOP presidential bid. He said he won't officially commit one way or another till after the series finale of “Celebrity Apprentice” – he claims his NBC contract prevents a concrete decision till June – adding he's “very serious” about taking on former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney and President Obama, and tacking POTUS onto his resume.
Recent polls show Trump tied with or leading Romney, Mike Huckabee and the rest of the presumed GOP White House candidates. The Gotham tycoon tweaked Romney over the weekend, saying his net worth – estimated at $2.7 billion – dwarfs the estimated $200 million fortune the former venture capitalist made during his business career.
Yesterday, he continued giving Romney the needle, saying, “Well, I am worth many, many, many times that. … That will be released if I decide to run. … Forbes has it at 2.7 (billion) and I can tell you it's much, much higher than that.”
The joy and beauty of it all is right there for all to see. This born-again birther has the financial resources to make an incredible nuisance of himself until the last primary if he so chooses, which is the ultimate nightmare scenario for the establishment GOP. They were all too happy to exploit the birth certificate Tea Party nonsense when it helped them regain the majority in the House, but now the GOP base is feeling their political oats, and Trump is the only high-profile candidate singing their song.
His very presence in the race would alter the laws of political gravity, and would force half the GOP primary debates to spend time talking about whether or not Obama was born in Hawaii. Any candidate who tries to dismiss Trump and the birther issue as farce would be immediately shunned and rejected by the all-important GOP base, which loves the birther thing with a fiery passion. Trump is the perfect storm, and has a few billion dollars to press the issue, along with an ego large enough to eclipse the planet.
More than anything else, the involvement of Trump in the nascent 2012 campaign has thrown the reality of the modern GOP into sharp relief. The bosses of the Republican Party are more than happy to use their base and the Tea Party people when it suits them, but when it comes to presidential politics, they need the base to vote as they are told and support the strongest candidate. Thanks to Trump's newfound birther interest, however, the matter is now far more complicated for them.
But here's the thing I find most interesting. Trump has been running hither and yon talking about birth certificates, killing the health care reform bill, and about not taxing rich people. Based on the record, this is a sea change from his former positions. Once upon a time, Trump vocally supported a Canadian-style single-payer health care system, a 14% tax on the wealthiest Americans to pay down the debt, and didn't say a peep about the birther thing until very recently. He has been a lavish donor to many Democrats, including Senator Chuck Schumer, who is despised by the GOP base.
So what gives here? Did Trump just turn on a dime, scrap all of his former positions, and embrace the Tea Party platform because he believes in it? Is he cynically using those positions to elbow his way into the conversation because he knows GOP primary voters are made mostly of the far-right base?
I have my own theory, out there though it may be. He could believe in all that stuff, or he could be using those issues to position himself, but there is a third possibility. Trump could be pulling the biggest prank in the history of American politics. If he still believes in single-payer health care and higher taxes for the rich, he could be playing the GOP for fools with a fake run that is already scrambling the RNC's eggs.
Could it be that Trump is the greatest political mole/troll we've ever seen?
I report, you decide.