Much of what I predicted in my June column in PolitickerNJ regarding Donald Trump has come true.
Some misread that as my being supportive of a Donald Trump candidacy for president. Quite doubtful as I am a very loyal and fervent Democrat. However, I was pleased to share observations which came from sharing a dinner table with Mr. Trump and his wife Melania many years ago as well as following him in the ensuing years.
As I predicted, in the GOP nomination chase, Trump is at the top of all polls in the early states as well as nationally; knocking on the 30% support that I suggested would be feasible.
Also, as I predicted, the Republican establishment tried to snuff out his candidacy.
However, I did not anticipate his ability to withstand the attempt of the establishment to blunt his rise. Nor did I anticipate how quickly all of this would occur.
The combination of Trump’s personality, the 24-hour news cycle and 17 candidates for the nomination have accelerated all of the intra-party warfare and dramatically reduced the effectiveness of the attacks on Trump.
As someone who has followed the race quite intensely I have noticed an interesting paradox; some commentators are comparing Trump to Ronald Reagan despite the fact that their personalities and methods could not be more different even if Trump’s message has echoes of Reagan’s.
Trump’s message of, “Making America Great Again” is quite reminiscent of Reagan’s “City on the Hill” and “Sunrise in America” campaigns. Thematically, Trump’s message could be the progeny of Reagan’s.
Reagan ran against what was widely perceived as the failed presidency of Jimmy Carter. Only the FOX news echo chamber believes that President Barack Obama has been a total and complete failure, but that cohort does share that view to a certainty, objective economic data be damned. So Trump may be smart to run against a failed Obama liberal agenda as conservatives have defined it.
Ironically, Carter was defeated as much by the taking of the American hostages as the “economic malaise” he famously or infamously described midway through his presidency. Today, GOP voters believe that the Iran deal, the rise of ISIS and the rejuvenation of Russia are all evidence of a failed Obama foreign policy. So in this respect, from the GOP perspective there is much to compare a Carter foreign policy with what we are facing as a nation today.
Despite serving two terms as Governor of California, Ronald Reagan ran as an outsider. He even changed the way government was pronounced for eight years; with the “ern” being eliminated whenever he railed against “govment”. So too Donald Trump is clearly running as an outsider beholden to no one.
Reagan and Trump also share being underestimated by the political establishment. Reagan was mocked as being a “B-movie” star known for the “General Electric Theater” and “Death Valley Days”. Similarly, to many voters, Trump has been defined by “The Apprentice” or his outlandish personality. With Reagan, the establishment underestimated that the TV shows gave Reagan the opportunity to be in American’s living rooms in such a way that people became very comfortable with him and the fear mongering used against his candidacy for president just did not ring true. Similarly, Trump has used “The Apprentice” to demonstrate his brash no nonsense; all business personality which the GOP base appears to find very attractive; particularly in a time of economic uncertainty. In the process Trump also demonstrated a sense of humor and love and respect for his children who have often joined him in the show. Both politicians turned TV stars had millions of dollars of free publicity to have the public form an independent view of them before they began their political careers.
After eight years of his presidency, the term “Reagan Democrats” became part of the political lexicon. Some commentators have suggested that we may someday be talking about “Trump Democrats”. As to this point I am not yet persuaded.
Despite all of the above comparisons, I am not convinced (yet) that Donald Trump is the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Indeed, one can make the argument that Trump is the “anti-Reagan”.
When Reagan as a candidate famously said, “I paid for this microphone” in a New Hampshire debate it was to allow other lesser known candidates to join in the debate not to insult his competition in a way that has become part of the Trump playbook.
Reagan turned the debate against Carter, with his friendly, “there you go again”. Reagan turned the age issue on its side when he promised in a debate with Vice President Mondale to not use his “youth and inexperience against him”. The latter exchange even brought a chuckle from Mondale. Reagan’s personality was his greatest weapon to set his political agenda. Trump relies on his brains and financial brawn and a bit of bravado and intimidation when making his points.
Reagan enjoyed the company of the Speaker Tip O’Neill and in some ways co-opted the Liberal Lion in a way that one cannot imagine Donald Trump with Nancy Pelosi or Steny Hoyer.
Trump for all of his charisma has not often displayed the congeniality which defined Ronald Reagan’s political career.
While Trump brags about his wealth and success, Reagan had a mid-western humility that was very appealing to the electorate. Reagan was not ashamed of his financial success but he did not flaunt it or suggest that being rich qualified him to be president.
And then there is the question of ego. Admittedly anyone in politics; especially one who believes he or she is qualified to be president must have a large ego. But Trump’s ego dwarfs Reagans by a factor of many zeroes. I recall the story of a young Reagan making up an entire baseball game when he was a radio announcer. If it was Trump, one imagines him making up the game and making himself the best player on the field.
Trump has demonstrated a mean streak that was not part of Reagan’s personality. One could never have conceived Ronald Reagan railing against “anchor babies” as a way to demonstrate the problem of illegal aliens crossing our borders.
At the end of the day, Ronald Reagan came across as a very nice man who wanted to be president out of love of country and loyalty to its people. Trump enjoys talking about how tough he and his friends are and how they would run the country just like he has built buildings; on time and under budget. Trump seems like he is running for president not only out of any sense of love of country but also out of a sense of love of Trump.
In his recent Alabama rally, Trump said he wishes he could make the election occur earlier than when scheduled. Even Donald Trump cannot amend the constitution and move up the calendar. It is not the type of suggestion one could have expected to hear from “the Gipper”.
So despite some of the historically interesting comparisons, Donald Trump does not appear to be the new Ronald Reagan. However, he may unwittingly be auditioning to be the anti-Reagan. Could he possibly share the same success?
One thing is clear. Donald Trump is setting the political agenda for the GOP going into the fall of 2015.
When you add up Tump’s supporters with those of Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Cruz and Carly Fiorina you come very close to breaking 50% of all Republican primary voters. It is quite plausible as they fall aside their supporters will easily gravitate to Trump.
With his personality, tenacity, intelligence and charisma , Donald Trump will be in the arena both metaphorically and literally for as long as he wants and perhaps actually into the Republican convention.
Will the national GOP leadership coalesce behind him or collectively get together and say “Your fired!”?
Lou Magazzu was a Freeholder in Cumberland County NJ from 1998-2011 and the longest serving Freeholder in that county in the last 50 years. He also served as Freeholder Director as well as County Democratic Chairman. He served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Counties, was the Chairman of the National Democratic County Officials and was President of the New Jersey Association of Counties. He can be reached at Lmagazzu@aol.com.