Donald Trump: Candidate or Character?

Ian Churchill, University of Maryland:

When business mogul Donald J. Trump shot to the top of the field of candidates seeking the Republican Party’s nomination for President this summer, it seemed as though Mr. Trump was the only person in America not taken by surprise. Appearing to survive solely by insulting his opponents, Mr. Trump has been running what was described during the third Republican debate as a “comic book campaign.” Mr. Trump has garnered as much media attention as the rest of the field combined, promising to ‘Make America Great Again’ but failing to present any real outline of how he plans to do so. Therefore, the question must be asked: does Mr. Trump really want to be President or is he running a campaign simply in pursuit of attention and publicity?

The real estate magnate-cum-reality TV star opened his campaign by staking out a strong nativist position, with his inflammatory language about Mexican immigrants drawing the ire of many Hispanic Americans. Not long after, he responded to criticism from Senator John McCain in equally brazen fashion, proclaiming that he “likes people who weren’t captured.” The other Republican candidates fell over themselves to defend Sen. McCain, who spent five years as a POW in the Vietnam War, and it seemed as though the combined backlash from these statements would doom Mr. Trump’s campaign. However, in just one of many ways this election cycle has defied common logic, Mr. Trump has displayed an imperviousness to criticism equal only to his own disregard for the commonly accepted standards of behavior for presidential candidates. Mr. Trump has modeled his campaign around the idea that he is a straight-talker, unafraid of the mainstream media and is willing to say what other candidates cannot or will not. At the first Republican Presidential debate in August, he parried a question from Fox News contributor Megyn Kelly about his perceived misogyny by telling the audience that he, and America, simply do not have time for political correctness. As the polls have shown, a large segment of the population agrees and continues to support him, unfazed by his outlandish comments.

A significant selling point of Mr. Trump’s campaign is the fact that he is self-funded, which he claims will allow him to pursue his agenda without being influenced by the will of his donors. Although he has received some donations, they total far less than those accepted by his rivals. He has attacked his opponents for accepting large-money contributions that could make them beholden to their donors, most notably labeling Governor Jeb Bush as a “puppet.” Mr. Bush has raised more than any other candidate for either party, with the vast majority coming from super PACs aligned with his campaign. Mr. Trump has pledged to spend up to a billion dollars of his own money to finance his campaign, and has even asked super PACs aligned with him to return any money they had received.

Despite enjoying considerable support at this early stage, Mr. Trump’s platform is exceedingly vague. The two issues on which his position is most explicitly defined are immigration and taxes, but he does not provide a viable solution on either issue. Famously, Mr. Trump has promised not only to build a wall across the border with Mexico, but also to force our southern neighbors to foot the bill. However, he has not yet elucidated how he will twist the Mexican government’s arm in order to do so. In addition, he opposes birthright citizenship, a right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, which mandates that any child born in the United States is, by birth, an American citizen. Removing birthright citizenship involves a constitutional amendment, a process that would require him work with Congress. Forcing his influence over the legislative branch is an extremely tall order, and it is difficult to envision Mr. Trump fulfilling this promise.

The other plank in Mr. Trump’s platform is his tax plan. This proposal calls for massive tax cuts, slashing income taxes for the highest bracket to 25%. Without any cuts in spending, this plan would increase the federal deficit by $12 trillion. With the federal government trillions of dollars in debt already, it is impossible to argue that this is a feasible plan for the future of America, let alone that it could pass both houses of Congress.

While it is incredibly hard to imagine Mr. Trump having any success in implementing his domestic policies, his foreign policy is even weaker. Claiming that “we don’t get along with” China or Mexico, he has vowed to make America win again on the world stage. Again, his promises are scant on details. An even more glaring weakness in Mr. Trump is his uncertain grasp of the situation in the Middle East. A Trump administration would inherit a world where the United States is deeply entrenched in the region, yet Mr. Trump was unable to differentiate between Hamas and Hezbollah and the Kurds and Quds Forces. This is a man seeking to become Commander-in-Chief of the United States; it is absolutely inexcusable for a candidate to be so uninformed about the other players in the region. Mr. Trump says that he will “get along with Putin” but how can Americans trust him to negotiate on their behalf when he has proven himself to be so ignorant on international issues?

Mr. Trump has been very successful in the business world, and he believes that business acumen will transfer to the White House. However, his ignorance on the issues and inability to understand the weight of the political obstacles in his way expose Mr. Trump as a charlatan in politicians’ clothing, totally unfit for office. Despite his painfully obvious shortcomings as a candidate, Mr. Trump continues to lead the Republican field. When his poll numbers are combined with those of the other major outsider candidate, Dr. Ben Carson, their combined level of support is between 40-50%, which is more indicative of a seismic shift in the Republican Party than it is a reflection of the candidates’ popularity.

When the GOP made sweeping gains in the 2010 midterm election, taking control of the House of Representatives, they did so as a result of a wave of anger in reaction to the policies of President Barack Obama. The 112th and 113th Congresses, led by recently deposed Speaker John Boehner, adopted a policy of obstructionism, resulting in the two least productive Congresses in history and an Congressional approval rating lower than traffic jams and cockroaches. The Republican electorate, infuriated at the inability of GOP legislators to halt the President’s agenda, have begun turning to candidates outside of politics to succeed where establishment candidates have failed.

With such a large voting bloc committed to supporting an outsider, Mr. Trump seized the opportunity. With such a huge segment of the population supporting him, it is no longer possible to write him off. The campaign is still in the early stages–Herman Cain led the polls at this time in the 2012 election cycle–but America must start realizing that Mr. Trump could very well emerge victorious. It is time for the Grand Old Party to reap what they have sown, and accept the very real possibility that he will be their nominee for President in 2016.

The amount of media attention that Mr. Trump has received has been immense, but he appears to be simply promoting his own personal brand rather than running a serious presidential campaign. Governor Mike Huckabee secured a show on Fox News for eight years after his failed presidential bid in 2008. For all his political shortcomings, Mr. Trump is undoubtedly a savvy businessman, and could be seeking to benefit from all of the attention he has received in this campaign. Without proposing any logical policies to the American people, Mr. Trump’s campaign for president has been little more than a publicity stunt.

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