There’s something to be said for a successful businessman running for president. Personal wealth appears to give a candidate the ability to speak freely and act based on real-world success.
That’s one reason that, earlier in the summer, a few facile comparisons emerged between real estate mogul Donald Trump and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The two men even found themselves in an alliance of sorts.
But politics is an ever-moving game. Recent events suggest that they could be at odds, in spite of Trump’s pledge on Thursday to support the party’s ultimate nominee.
“What appeals most about Trump to many voters is that he’s a man who can get things done in more than one realm and who, by virtue of this ability, has become enormously successful. Mitt Romney also fit this description,” wrote Paul Mirengoff in August in Powerline blog.
As with Trump, who is unabashed about his wealth, Romney never apologized for his business acumen or for his turn-around of the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympic Games. But Trump seems to have combined flamboyant money-flaunting with the populist touch that Romney arguably lacked.
In the early months of the 2012 presidential primary, Romney’s stance on immigration paved the way for the issue that seems to be driving Trump’s standing in the polls. Romney (mistakenly, in my view) catered to the more anti-immigrant members of the party with calls for the “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants.
Trump goes even further. He’s calling for the actual deportation of immigrants.
Whatever one thinks of Trump’s style of politics and business, he’s entering the third month as the party’s front-runner. This much time in the limelight is positively unnerving mainstream and conservative Republicans. It might even fuel another “draft Mitt” movement.
Can Romney be blamed for inspiring Trump to run? According to Bill Powell’s report last month in Newsweek: “It was the summer of 2012, and the Republican convention loomed. Mitt Romney’s people wanted to do something unconventional, something that would grab headlines. So behind the scenes, they spoke to Donald J. Trump and agreed to make a humorous short video with him, one that ended with Trump looking squarely into the camera and saying, ‘President Obama, you’re fired.’
“’It would have brought the house down,’ says a source with ties to both Romney and Trump.”
In the end, though, the Romney camp blinked. They lost their brashness. They instead invited Clint Eastwood on stage. He ended up quizzically talking to an empty chair.
Politics must ultimately turn from theater to principles. Are we electing a commander-in-chief or a court jester? Are we looking for the honest and wise leader sought by our nation’s founders, or for men alternatingly entertaining and bullying?
Consider Trump’s treatment of Megyn Kelly of Fox News, who asked him a fair question at the Aug. 6 debate. Given his disparagement of women as “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs” and “animals,” does Trump have the temperament to be president? He refused to answer. But he threatened: “I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that.”
He did that.
And he never seems to stop.
“Although each absurd, uninformed or just plain incorrect statement seems to give Trump a bump in the polls, there are only so many times supporters can defend his outrageous assault on decency, truth and civility,” former NBA basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in the Washington Post on Wednesday. “Voters will eventually see the light.”
As if to punctuate the point about Trump’s bullying, by the end of the day Abdul-Jabber had posted Trump’s hand-written response: “Now I know why the press always treated you so badly — they couldn’t stand you. The fact is that you don’t have a clue about life and what has to be done to make America great again!”
“Trump isn’t merely courting headlines by creating controversy. He’s playing a subtler, and I think more pernicious, game. A game which corrupts us even as we delight in it,” writes Umair Haque in Medium. “Trump’s strategy is to create a perception that his victory is inevitable.”
His victory is not inevitable. Trumpism casts an unflattering light upon the heart and soul of the Republican Party. But Americans have a fundamental sense of decency that cannot be corrupted so quickly and so completely.
In 2012, Romney had his share of gaffes that haunted him. Remember the 2012 debate with President Obama, in which he referred to his experience as governor of Massachusetts seeking “binders full of women” from whom he could select Cabinet appointees?
It seems laughable that that statement could be linked to some imagined hostility of Romney to women or women’s rights — particularly when everyone can look at Donald Trump’s statements and see such hostility directly.
Drew Clark is of counsel at the law firm of Kirton McConkie, where he deals with technology, media and telecommunications. Connect on Twitter @drewclark or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.