Who wakes up New Year’s Day exclaiming “The Iowa caucuses are only a month away!”
Possibly Mr. Trump who has announced that starting soon he will “spend big” on advertising, in the area of $2 million (U.S.) a week. The Trump campaign is low on ad spend — $35 million under budget according to the candidate, who in a recent Reuters poll was showing, at 39.1 per cent, a triple lead over Ted Cruz.
The Donald says he doesn’t want to take any chances. “We’re too close.”
When I was a much younger business reporter, Trump was a perilously indebted hotelier-cum-casino-operator who hadn’t at all proved the anyone-in-America-can-get-rich dream, but rather had been bankrolled with a million dollars from dad and enabled in later years by pliant, debt-rolling bankers. Strapped for cash through the 1990-91 recession he was forced to shed assets, including his 86-metre yacht, Trump Princess, which, we never failed to note, had been built by Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khoshoggi.
Trump seemed more circus act than businessman and, for a time, there was a sense that he would just fade away, like other over-extended real estate developers of his day. But he was brilliant at eponymous brand building and at finely crafting his back story, including portraying four Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings as little more than back-office tidying up. At one point in 1991 he had $900 million in personal liabilities and the corporate debt ran into the billions. As the New York Times wryly noted at the time, “Having billions of dollars of debt is a powerful bargaining chip.”
Trump’s is a personality supremely suited to the world of the Big Me. That’s David Brooks’s phrase for this era of all-consuming self promotion. In his book The Road to Character, the New York Times columnist notes that self-advertising did not use to be part of the political scene. A factoid: according to Brooks, of the 23 men and women who served in the Dwight Eisenhower cabinet, only one published a memoir afterward, and a boring one at that.
Building character demands certain traits. Brooks cites humility and honest self confrontation as two essentials. We know this to be true. These are nowhere in evidence with the Trumpster (Trumps own language, not mine). I’m not just referring to his on-stage performance. Mark Singer’s Trump profile written for the New Yorker in 1997 still stands in my books as a note-perfect assessment of the man. Exempt from introspection. A specialist in simulated intimacy. An opera-buff parody of wealth. Those are all Singer’s finely tuned observations. I will add master of elision.
The gilt-edged parody turned pop culture politician has defied expectations that he would be blown away by, well, sanity. Last summer, the Huffington Post announced that it would underscore the absurdity of Trump’s presidential bid by shuffling him off to the entertainment section, like the Kardashians. In December, when Trump advocated for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Arianna Huffington decided the joke was over: it was time to chronicle seriously the “disastrous impact” Trump was having on the national conversation.
The mistake was in seeing Trump as a joke in the first place.
In London, Trump’s banning Muslims comment drew more than 500,000 signatures to an e-petition that he be barred from entry to the U.K. Parliamentary debate on the matter seemed likely.
Yet none of Trump’s GOP contenders for the presidential nomination has been able to gain much traction against the bombast, racism, bigotry, demagoguery, sexism, off-colour remarks: the list is long.
Democratic contender Bernie Sanders may have the best handle on this. On Face the Nation recently Sanders acknowledged that Trump has successfully harnessed the distemper of working class Americans who feel angry, left out, betrayed, resentful.
Yet it is Sanders who is targeting the root cause of this distemper, whether it be the inequities increasingly inherent in corporate America or more specifically his advocacy for an increased minimum wage, which Trump opposes, or the manner in which big financial institutions skated away from the financial crisis.
Trump’s agenda is “not an agenda that ‘makes America great,’” he says. “It’s just another Republican billionaire wanting to make the very rich richer at the expense of working families.”
Will voters start seeing through Trump’s salesman’s shtick? The countdown to the Iowa caucuses begins now, followed by the New Hampshire primary. If Trump can be made vulnerable, this is the time to make that happen.