Jacob Heilbrunn

The Rise of Donald Trump

 Donald Trump is the Sarah Palin of 2012. Trump's foray into the Republican primary is causing heartburn in the GOP establishment and a flutter of excitment among voters. He's too brash, crude, inexperienced--so goes the verdict of the Trump detractors. Those points are all true, at least up to a point. But as with Palin, Trump's very inexperience means that he's attractive to voters. He is the man on horseback, just as Palin was the woman on horseback, who will ride into town to clear out the pesky varmints who are infesting Washington.

Like Palin, he doesn't speak in the honeyed tones of a politician seeking to curry favor with various voting groups. Instead, he's bluntly announcing that he'll take a meataxe to Washington as well as America's foes. He won't negotiate with China or the Saudis. He'll lay down the law. Trump may hail from New York, but he evokes America's bygone western traditions. The lone fighter who faces down the bad guys.

Conservatives like his temerarious talk. And perhaps not just conservatives. The GOP field has been a study in caution. Trump, by contrast, speaks clearly. He's most recently been visiting New Hampshire. The Los Angeles Times reports,


judging by the reaction at Portsmouth's Roundabout Diner, which offered a special three-egg omelet called "The Donald" on Wednesday morning, Trump is emerging as a sort of folk hero. As the mogul's black stretch limo pulled up outside, Brent Morrill hurried his two young daughters into the diner, telling them they were about to meet "one of the richest men in the world."
"I'm psyched," Morrill said about the prospect of Trump running. "He's a good businessman, and you've got to be a good businessman nowadays to run the country. I think he has the brains for it."

As Trump entered the restaurant, he was greeted with whoops and applause.


Is Trump truly "one of the richest men in the world"? His career as a real estate developer has been a checkered one. But with Trump it is the appearance of success, not the substance, that counts. America has increasingly inclined toward the celebrity candidate. This development truly took off when John F. Kennedy ran against Richard Nixon. Obama's 2008 campaign was premised on the notion that he was "the one," a uniquely anointed figure. He won't be able to replicate that strategy in 2012, but Trump, an outsider, could try.

The likely prospect is that Trump, like Palin, would wreak havoc in the Republican primary. He could even win it. But he lacks the sobriety, the steady judgment required of a president. Would you really want this man's finger on the nuclear button? But it's fun and enjoyable to speculate about Trump. Imagine the buzz a Trump-Palin ticket would create. For the media, he's a dream candidate. And for voters bored with the current GOP field he offers a pleasant diversion from reality.