From a certain perspective, the emergence of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential frontrunner is a farce. The idea that a windbag like Trump, whose main claim to executive management has been to file for corporate bankrupcy four times, would be taken seriously boggles the mind. (The hair alone–a cross between the Nike swoosh and a shag carpet–should be a disqualifier.)
Yet Trump is riding the crest of the wave, at the top of the polls as he rolls into tonight’s televised debate. And that’s the tragedy of the modern GOP. The party is currently governed by the unbridled id of the lunatic fringe, and there’s anyone who know about id, it’s Donald Trump. In many ways, Trump is the embodiment of all the crazy ideas that the Republican party has relied upon to whip up its base. He thinks Obama’s birth certificate is fake, global warming is a hoax, Mexican immigrants are rapists and the Republican political establishment a captive of evil Washington.
All of which makes Trump the perfect candidate for the Republican party. He’s takes all the wingnut ideas from the minor candidates of 2012–Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich–repackages them, and sells them to the eager primary audience. Adding his own millions and reality TV experience makes him a force that the other radicals could never be.
With one exception: Trump isn’t a rabid homophobe. He’s opposed to marriage equality, although he is, by his own conceit, “a very fair person.” But he’s not rabid, like Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee. In fact, his opposition is fairly lukewarm. By his own reasoning, it’s like golf.
“A lot of people — I don’t want this to sound trivial — but a lot of people are switching to these really long putters, very unattractive,” Trump told The New York Times at one point. “It’s weird. You see these great players with these really long putters, because they can’t sink three-footers anymore. And, I hate it. I am a traditionalist. I have so many fabulous friends who happen to be gay, but I am a traditionalist.”
So, yes, Trump opposes marriage equality because we have longer putters.
So far, Trump hasn’t paid any political price for being inappropriately lukewarm in his opposition (and for considering us fabulous in any case). But that doesn’t mean he won’t. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is tripping all over himself to make opposition to anything gay a litmus test in the primaries, and he’ll have plenty of help from the even lesser lights, like Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry, to say nothing of Santorum and Huckabee.
Of course, Trump is a publicity hound, and if his PR instincts tell him that he needs to be more viciously antigay to get attention, he will do so. He’s repeatedly demonstrated that he will shift political positions to match the prevailing winds.
By any account, Trump has zero chance of winning the GOP presidential nomination. Even Republicans haven’t sunk that low. But unlike the minor candidates of 2012, Trump has his own deep pockets and an ego to match. If he wants to run as an independent–and he’s been hinting as much–he could, which would be the Republicans’ worst nightmare.
As is, Trump is getting a lot of criticism for damaging the GOP brand. But on that count, the Donald is innocent. The brand has been there all along.
He’s just better at merchandising it than anyone else.