Should we take Donald Trump seriously?

Should we take Donald Trump seriously? Jay Cost in his Morning Jay blogpost today in the Examiner’s sister publication The Weekly Standard thinks so. Cost concentrates not on Trump’s raising the birther issue—“it is fundamentally undermining his attack on Obama,” he writes—but on the fact that this outside-of-partisan-politics but still very well-known celebrity is launching an attack on an incumbent president in a forum, the Today show, generally considered a serious public affairs program, is what’s extraordinary.

I have made the point that the way is open for an independent or third-party presidential candidate as it was in 1992: we’re facing serious financial problems, voters have negative feelings toward both political parties and—as Cost points out—Barack Obama’s OK but not spectacular general job approval numbers have rotten underpinnings in his more negative ratings on specific issues. But what really got my attention in Cost’s article was the author he quoted to show how Trump was doing something like what Ross Perot did in 1992: me. He quoted a fairly lengthy passage from the Introduction to The Almanac of American Politics 1994, which I wrote some time in the spring of 1993. Pretty good stuff, I thought as I read it, and suddenly remembered writing it though the passage hadn’t crossed my mind lately. I guess Jay Cost knows my work better than I do myself.

Cost puts in italics the following sentence in my Introduction. “Perot’s campaign ‘departisanized the critique of Bush,’ as Democratic strategist Paul Tully put it, pushing Bush lower in the polls in the spring as a then-wounded and distrusted Bill Clinton could not have done.” The quote came from an interview with Paul Tully at the 1992 Democratic National Convention; he dropped dead at an early age shortly afterward. But his analysis was spot on, and I think Jay Cost is on to something when he says that Trump has a similar potential to inflict damage on Obama.

I can't resist adding a footnote on Donald Trump. Back in the late 1970s, when Trump was becoming prominent as a brash young developer (who got his biggest break by being one of two major contributors to Gov. Hugh Carey's primary campaign, the other big contributor being Carey's brother), a friend starting off at The New Yorker asked me for story ideas he could pitch to the legendary and fastidious editor William Shawn. I suggested Donald Trump. Some weeks later I asked my friend what became of the suggestion. He said, “Shawn said, 'I don't think I'd like to read anything about Mr. Trump.'” Mr. Shawn passed away some years ago and so has been spared the burden of reading the spate of articles about Donald Trump.

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