It’s becoming clear that there is only one choice for President this year. That is said, not as an endorsement, but because only one of the two candidates on the ballot actually wants to be the next President. Donald Trump is there, doing something, but he is not seriously competing to win the White House.
Two weeks ago, hours after the last of too many reports was released on the Benghazi attacks from 2012, Donald Trump gave a long speech against free trade agreements, which whether you like them or not, are a staple of Republican economic policy and have been for your entire life. Next, On July 2, a Saturday morning, Hillary Clinton met with the FBI to discuss her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State. While that meeting was happening, Donald Trump shared a graphic on his Twitter account that his campaign repurposed from a White-Supremacist Reddit page, showing the Star of David over top of $100 bills.
Last Week, after the FBI Director, James Comey, issued a long public statement criticizing Clinton’s handling of her email, Trump wasted a prime opportunity to seriously address the matter and strike at her credibility. During a speech in Cincinnati, Trump spent a cursory amount of time with boilerplate attacks, calling her crooked, corrupt and part of a rigged system, but then went off script and spent the majority of his time, in this most valuable window of time while the FBI decision is still fresh in everyone’s mind, defending the star and expressing regret that a staffer deleted and later altered the image.
This is how the New York Times described it.
It was a striking display of self-sabotage from a presumptive presidential nominee and underscored the limitations of Mr. Trump’s scattershot approach during the Republican primaries — not to mention how difficult he often makes it for his campaign team to control him.
Something is going on here. A serious candidate would attempt to capitalize on the mistakes or past transgressions of an opponent to gain popular support in an effort to obtain more votes from the electorate in an election that will happen in November. An inept way to do that is to clumsily, or noticeably, send signals to white supremacists that he is in league with them, while altering the media narrative and providing the previously mentioned FBI meeting and subsequent report with competition for coverage.
So what’s the deal? The answer is that Donald Trump is using this scam presidential campaign to manipulate a gullible base of support in order to build up a customer base for his next round of scams, which he will undertake after getting blown out in November. Jeet Heer explains in The New Republic that Trump is just building a giant skyscraper on top of the scheme that previous pseudo-Republican candidates have used to cash in on after dropping out of the race and why many Republican voters will fall for it.
The anti-intellectualism that has been a mainstay of the conservative movement for decades also makes its members easy marks. After all, if you are taught to believe that the reigning scientific consensuses on evolution and climate change are lies, then you will lack the elementary logical skills that will set your alarm bells ringing when you hear a flim-flam artist like Trump. The Republican “war on science” is also a war on the intellectual habits needed to detect lies.
It was only natural that politicians themselves would want to get in on these scams. Writing in the New Republic in 2014, the journalist Ben Adler documented how an entire class of Republican politicians, including Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Huckabee, used mailing lists built up in their presidential campaigns to sell dubious products afterward. In Cain’s case, anyone who gave money to his campaign would get ads, after the campaign ended, promising a “breakthrough” remedy for erectile dysfunction, “one of more than 50 similar pitches for miracle cures and easy-money tricks that Cain has passed along to his e-mail followers.” Gingrich and Huckabee, ostensibly more “serious” and established politicians, did much the same:
Newt Gingrich now pings the e-mail subscribers to his Gingrich Productions with messages from an investment firm formed by a conspiracy theorist successfully sued for fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mike Huckabee uses his own production company’s list to blast out links to heart-disease fixes and can’t-miss annuities.
These scams, risible as they seem, bring in serious money. By Adler’s calculations, Cain and Huckabee made small fortunes from selling their email lists to advertisers: “At $36 per thousand list members for an ad filling an entire e-mail, and no fewer than 33 such ads sent last year, Cain made more than $420,000 from e-mail ads in 2013—minus Newsmax’s cut and the costs of maintaining his list. For Huckabee, whose list is nearly twice as long as Cain’s and commands a rate of $43.25 per thousand, the rough haul is north of $900,000.”
So, basically, Trump is spending 18 months wooing angry white conservatives that detest ‘political correctness,’ Jew hating white supremacists and conspiracy theorists who bury gold coins and tomato seeds in their back yards. This has been done in the past to varying degrees, but the difference here is scale. Trump isn’t interested in amassing an email list to pillage. His aspirations are much bigger, including the possibility of his own cable news empire. He has also had much more success than the previous group of hucksters, which is frightening if this is the direction things are still moving.
Trump realizes he can assemble and fleece a fan base drawn to products ‘the government doesn’t want you to know about.’ The keen cable news viewer that can identify every politician as a liar and fraud and every annoying sales pitch as a rip off, the eagle-eyes who sniff out rackets where ever and whenever they appear, are part of the same crew that goes all-in with any scam artist that says, ‘I’m the outsider. The EPA are the real racists. Something, something. #Benghazi.’ Their hearts beat aflutter. They have been delivered.
A year from now, the same base of support that attended rallies for Trump, that voted for him, and were the only ones surprised by the election night results will be watching him on television calling Hillary Clinton the worst President in American history. His tell-all memoir about the liberal media and GOP elite subverting his campaign will be a best seller. They’ll buy his new, huge, thicker cut steaks, low-yield annuities that shield the investor from any crash in the stock market, and gold plated ‘DON’T BLAME ME, I VOTED FOR TRUMP’ coffee mugs. The joke is on them, and far too many will never realize it.
That is what Donald Trump is doing here, building a brand through a guerilla marketing campaign masquerading as a presidential campaign. This may come as a shock to some, but Trump has always been consumed with himself. His campaign spent more on ‘Make America Great Again’ hats in May than it did in online advertising. He took a break and flew to Scotland to visit one of his golf courses. And remember that whole TV network thing. There has never been a presidential candidate that put so much focus on other things during the campaign. A man interested in winning would spend more time focusing on winning instead of tending to alternative business interests. His actions detail his true motivations. He wants no part of being President. That’s not his plan. Maybe he never intended to get this far, but here we are, and he is still all in.
Expect the next four months to follow a similar path to what has already occurred. Rambling, self congratulatory speeches and TV appearances, complaining about media coverage, getting distracted and failing to capitalize on his opponents mistakes or opportunities to gain support, and a few breaks to attend to business deals. Election day will come and he will lose. Then, after a few days complaining about voter fraud and a lack of support from Republicans, it will be on to the next phase.
At first, it may come as a relief that his campaign is an unserious mirage. In the immediate term, it does keep him out of the White House, which is an unmitigated good that can be shared by all, but the long term consequences offer no such reassurances. It should be distressing that a major party in the oldest democracy on the planet can be swindled by a grifter who embraces irrational conspiracy theories, foreign dictators and exacerbates his own mistakes, all while continuing to flout his contempt for rule of law, international norms or any and all conduct necessary to inspire confidence in his decision making. Also unfortunate is the fact that many significant and legitimate grievances will go ignored, or at best, unaddressed by a sham candidate offering only arrogant bluster and by an administration that will feel no real pressure to deal with the concerns of an even further marginalized and shrinking sector of a political opposition in full meltdown.
Also, large minorities of people of all political persuasions are losing or have lost faith in the political process. The Trump clown show will only serve to further suppress confidence and participation, which is the only real solution to combating an out of touch ruling class. Getting involved by voting, volunteering, going to meetings, serving on boards and committees may be time consuming and inconvenient, but it is the only sure way to make sure your voice is heard. For all those fed up that Washington is not listening, more citizens making an active choice to participate in a cumbersome process is much less likely when one of two candidates for any office has such insincere motives.
What is necessary is that Republicans realize what has already happened. The Iraq war and eight years of Barack Obama have turned them into a bitter, peevish collaborative that sees more value in nastiness and snark than in forwarding a legislative agenda. A list of every possible take on a Clinton scandal or an Obama affront is available at less than a moment’s notice, but they’ve had 7 years to develop a well thought out alternative to the Affordable Care Act and we’re still waiting. Ideas and vision matter. They lost their way in the midst of the Iraq war and financial meltdown, thus creating the opening in their flank that Donald Trump stormed though, conquering everyone in his path. What we really need is a less crazy and more credible minority party that can hold the party in office accountable, keep them on the right track, and be seen as a responsible alternative to take over by the general electorate. Those traits do not exist in today’s Republican party. The question that will linger on is whether Trump’s fraud shakes them from their delusion or drives them to greater depths.