After watching Donald Trump on C-Span the other day, one can see it being easy to be convinced that what the public sees, at least from the press coverage, is just a bit of "reality television" spilling over into real life. His performance at the gathering was reminiscent of what may have happened had Archie Bunker walked out of the cartoon world of the television sitcom and went to speak at posh affair filled with the wax museum of Washington politicos and the buzzard-esque scowls of the press. All eyes fixed on the performer giving yet another exhibition of theatrical prowess.
Much of what the public sees of Donald Trump is a caricature. Much of that narrative depicts the embodiment of the 80s-era businessman: brash, egotistical, with a steely-eyed sureness. Moving away from that age the image morphs into one of the megalomaniacal CEO who fires employees almost with sadistic glee, and assumes that his stature affords him the prerogative of behaving with little common decency. On television Donald Trump has become the image of the lovable tyrant whose audience stays hinged on every word -- laughing at anything that might resemble humor as any employee, seeking favor, would at an office party.
Yet behind all of the populist hot air, and the big-shot persona, is a man who is very cunning. As a real-estate mogul worth billions, a man like Donald Trump knows how to relate to an audience better than a politician. He has to as each transaction he is working on can increase his personal wealth. Moreover, he doesn't have the time to make the connections while trying to close a deal that an average politician does. He has to, as a salesman, become expert at being a "five-minute friend". Every move has to count in building a credible connection that will get him to, and beyond, the closing table.
In the late 1800s a rather obnoxious windbag of politician became an artform on the American political scene. In an era of the soapbox and the campaign-caboose car, men in pressed suits would flock to see characters with names like "Battlin'" Bob LaFollete, Eugene V. Debs, William Jennings Bryan, and Theodore Roosevelt with the same enthusiasm normally reserved for the revival preacher, carnival barker, or snake-oil salesman. They would indict, convict, satire, and mock all the while slinging words few in their awestruck audiences comprehended. They would promise the stars, affirm prejudices, delivering a mountebankism so seductive, their audiences were sure these men were messianic instead of the scoundrels they actually were. Most would walk away either sufficiently entertained, or believing that the illusory American Dream they craved was about to be delivered on a silver platter. Ultimately what they found was that these frauds were simply blowing through, like a torrential Florida rain, leaving nothing in their wake but a lot of work for the street sweepers.
Americans are drawn to a message that encompasses elements of visceral optimism but damns the villains, appropriate to consensual bias, to a hell even Dante's Lucifer couldn't even abide. So is it any surprise that this era would produce a politician of the caliber of a Donald Trump? Hardly.
The majority of Americans, having that one crass and vulgar relative with an endless supply of flatulence jokes and odd charisma, aren't entirely repulsed by this caricature, but are rather drawn to him. Trump embodies a middle America that is uninterested in the puritan-esque self-righteousness of the social-justice warrior or similar liberal. He sanctions the fear they have of the Mexican who picks the produce they buy in the grocery store and hangs their drywall for rock-bottom wages. In any case, and perhaps of more importance, Donald Trump has been on television, and certainly a man paid millions for uttering the words, "You're fired" and locking up with Vince McMahon at Summerslam, has something positive to bring to Washington, D.C.
So like the stump speakers of old the megalomaniacal Donald Trump has, through simple salesmanship and force of personality, swept a noticeable majority of the voting base the GOP has cultivated since the day Lyndon B Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law. He has skillfully applied "The Art of the Deal" and closed a majority of people who, more than likely, have no clue what he stands for. Surprisingly enough he has managed to accomplish this feat clearly off of the hot air generated by his superego.
Donald Trump is in essence America. He is as addicted to his own cult of personality as the fans who flock to see him. Most current polls place Trump with a commanding lead over any of the other candidates currently running for the Republican nomination. Going into the New Hampshire Primary, Trump leads the field by over 20 points according to PublicPolicyPolling.com. He enjoys a commanding lead of seven points or more in the polls for upcoming primaries in other states. His largely nativist message of "Tea Party twaddle" not only makes Democrats nervous, but also finally got the attention of Reince Priebus, Chairman of the RNC, who will meet with Trump in order to negotiate an amicable marriage with the Republican Party. The meeting promises, to the hopes of the GOP brass, that any rumors of Trump possibly continuing in a 3rd-party effort will not happen should he not get the nomination.
And so it appears that Donald Trump skillfully executed "The Art of the Deal" against the RNC as there is no guarantee he can sustain the current support he already has. However, expertly he played the game with the GOP's base of voters better than any other candidate in the field. He played the game well enough to, along with the threat of mutiny with a lot of their voters, to orchestrate a bluff that made the GOP establishment too nervous to call him on -- "just to get them to treat him fairly." Call it, and Donald Trump, what one will but if it is true that is one skillful bit of politicking for a megalomaniacal old windbag.
So what comes from the deal will be interesting as it unfolds. Will Donald Trump keep his promise to the RNC or will he bolt the party anyway in a fit of ego? Will the RNC finally warm up to their front runner? If Donald Trump and the RNC finally warm up will Trump water down some of his more provocative rhetoric, or will he continue to play to the base prejudices of his populist constituency? Who knows? Much is still yet to come and, for those of us uninterested in GOP politics on any real level, the drama assured may actually be entertaining to watch.