My friend Yoni translated this commentary from Haaretz for me. As we all look forward to the first Republican debate tomorrow, it strikes me as insightful:
Republicans caught in Donald Trump’s reality show
07.28.2015 | 14:17
Americans just discovered they are trapped in the New York billionaire’s program. He is its director, presenter, and possibly its winner. The Republican Party stands helpless against a hostile takeover of its image
The hero of the famous movie “The Truman Show,” starring Jim Carrey, discovers that his life is conducted in the virtual reality of a reality show that the whole world is watching. In Trump’s show the principle is similar but reversed: here it is America in general and the Republican Party in particular, that is trapped in a reality show whose director, presenter, and possibly winner is New York billionaire Donald Trump.
For now, the man the media treats as a walking joke, leads the polls against all other Republican presidential candidates. In Iowa, where the first primary elections will be held on February 1, 2016, Trump is quickly closing the gap with the current front runner, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. In New Hampshire, which will hold the primaries a week later, Trump has already deposed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and is opening a gap over his rivals. The Democrats are enjoying every minute of it, but Republicans have long ago stopped laughing.
So far, the main victims of Trump’s success are political commentators, whose forecasts of Trump’s fast evaporation from the Republican race evaporated even faster; The Republican Party, which stands helpless in the face of Trump’s hostile takeover of its voice, image, and screen time; All 15 presidential candidates, who have been pushed out of sight; And the political discourse in America, currently being conducted under the shadow of blunt, simplistic, and racist statements made by Trump.
The jet fuel for the 69-year-old’s takeoff is provided by the media, especially television networks, who are broadcasting and crying. Commentators cluck their tongues at Trump’s exploits but at the same time provide him with enthusiastic 24/7 coverage, at the expense of the other candidates and the serious issues on the agenda, including the agreement with Iran. Quite a few Republicans are talking about a liberal media conspiracy – to identify the entire Republican Party with Trump in order to hurt the GOP’s chances of winning the presidency.
Indeed, in the six weeks since he announced he was joining the race, Trump has already caused significant damage to the republicans. That damage has doubled due to the lukewarm condemnation by his rivals, fearful of upsetting Trump’s supporters. The most severe damage he imposed on the GOP comes from his repeated comments about Mexican illegal immigrants being mostly “thugs, rapists and drug dealers.” This message is applauded among immigrant-hating whites, but infuriates the Hispanic community. Without a sizable chunk of Hispanic votes the Republicans will see the White House only from the outside.
The media’s obsessive preoccupation with Trump stifles any hope Republicans had of focusing on criticizing President Obama. It dwarfs the other candidates, like Bush, Walker and Marco Rubio, and paints them pale and hesitant compared with the blunt and colorful real estate mogul; And it stresses the less known candidates, making them escalate their rhetoric and use silly gimmicks to gain a little media coverage and keep their heads above water.
In recent days, as the date of the first televised debate of the party approaches, the hysteria of the laggards has grown considerably. Due to the many candidates and the difficulty of putting them all on one stage, Fox and CNN decided to limit participation to the ten candidates leading the polls. Candidates who lag behind know that if they don’t make it to the debate their campaign is over: they attack The Donald to bask in the margins of his fame, but usually they only come out injured.
Trump – his plebeian style, venomous tongue, and confidence soaring – sends poisoned arrows toward his rivals, pushing them out of balance. Sen. Lindsey Graham is an idiot, Trump declared; Trump is an ass, replied the Senator; Take his phone number, Trump offered; Graham, a leading member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, turned himself into a D-list entertainer, uploading a YouTube video in which he smashes his cellphone in every possible way.
He is a cancer in conservatism’s body, attacked Governor Rick Perry; Trump silenced him by declaring he is hiding his stupidity behind his glasses. The preacher and former governor Mike Huckabee regained the spotlight over the weekend by saying Obama, “is leading Israel in to the crematorium” with his nuclear deal with Iran. Obama replied, and many Republicans agreed, that “this statement would have been ridiculous if it were not so sad.”
Pollsters and experts still do not believe Trump will keep the first place beyond the debate and first primaries: his campaign benefitted from his celebrity status, they claim, but when the moment of truth arrives the Republicans will go with a realistic candidate. But perhaps the commentators still misinterpret the political tea leaves?
Trump is able to connect with the same radical, anti-establishment, anarchistic mood that led to the Tea Party victories in 2010. As New York Times Columnist, Timothy Egan, wrote earlier this week, Trump is not an exception but a “poison Republicans have concocted for themselves”: He feeds off the xenophobia, fear of minorities, rejection of liberal values, and hatred of Obama which Republicans have cultivated for the last decade. While they condemned Trump when he questioned John McCain’s heroism, they ignored his ongoing refusal to recognize Obama’s birth certificate.
Trump the wild redhead embodies the tiger the Republicans rode this far and now find it hard to get off. He is a hero to those who want to “burn down the club,” who do not trust democracy, and are not prepared to hear more hollow slogans of established politicians like Bush or Rubio or Walker. They prefer someone who speaks frankly, in everyday language. This phenomenon exists, in a more subtle version, among Democrats, much to the delight of left-wing Senator Bernie Sanders and much to the chagrin of Hillary Clinton.
Seventeen years ago, the Director of “The Truman Show”, described the magic of reality TV. The same magic which Trump built his fame and from which it draws, even now, his success: “Players with fake emotions bore us. We’re tired of pyrotechnics and special effects. The world Truman lived in was perhaps fake, but not Truman. He had no script or pre-conceived slogans. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s totally real.”
The two debates tomorrow should be fascinating — first the “kid’s table” debate, then the main one. And as if those weren’t reason enough to stay home, they will be followed, as you doubtless know, by Jon Stewart’s final Daily Show. What a void that will leave, unless John Oliver can somehow be persuaded to take it over after the next guy fails. (The next guy may be terrific; it’s not his fault; give him the time slot right before, or something. But the only two people I can imagine filling Jon Stewart’s shoes are: Jon Stewart and John Oliver.)