The jury is still out on the question, and they’re likely to be out for a while longer. Despite the fact that Trump has been the Republican frontrunner for months now, some people still can’t wrap their minds around the idea that the real-estate mogul and TV personality has his eye on the Oval Office. The issue as it stands today boils down to this: Is Donald Trump a real presidential candidate with a vision, or is this ultimately a PR stunt?
First of all, Donald Trump stands for Donald Trump, plain and simple. During the first debate, he publicly did not pledge to abstain from running an independent campaign if he is not chosen as the eventual Republican nominee. He was the only candidate out of 10 who declined to make that pledge, inciting booing from the crowd and a reminder from moderator Bret Baier that “an independent run would almost certainly hand the race over to Democrats and likely another Clinton.”
Donald Trump is a political outsider, which may be advantageous for him. In fact, none of the top three Republican presidential candidates has ever held political office. As of Sept. 24, according to a Real Clear Politics average of national polls, Trump leads with 23.4 percent support, followed by Dr. Ben Carson with 17.0 percent and Carly Fiorina with 11.6 percent. Ben Carson is an accomplished neurosurgeon, the first ever to separate twins conjoined at the head, and Fiorina was the CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 to 2005.
Many Americans are weary of the political establishment, and some are even angry. Approval of Congress hovers around 14 percent, and in 2014, voter turnout for congressional elections was the lowest it’s been since 1942. There may therefore be something appealing about a blank slate politician who storms into the presidency with a fresh vision and energy. On the other hand, a candidate who has never experienced the inner workings of American government may struggle to fulfill his or her built-up expectations.
Trump is a quick-fix candidate. In his world, a wall along the Mexican border is a cure. His slogan “Make America Great Again!” assumes that voters, for the most part, would agree that America is currently not great. While in the past, many politicians praised our country to gain support, many Republican candidates and voters in today’s political climate seem to work under the assumption that the nation is in acute distress. Widespread dissatisfaction with our political institutions makes the electorate more vulnerable to demagogues. But perhaps many are misguided in thinking Trump is the man for the job. Let’s examine some of Trump’s statements:
On trade: “When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say China, in a trade deal? I beat China all the time. All the time.”
“Free trade is terrible. Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have stupid people.”
On labor: “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
On ISIS: “They built a hotel. When I build a hotel, I have to pay interest. They don’t have to pay interest because they took the oil when we left Iraq, I said we should have taken. So now ISIS has the oil.”
Trump’s blustering style leads him to make black-and-white comments that are simply too extreme to be taken seriously. He knows how to command a stage and stir the pot, but what it is exactly that he’s cooking is more or less a mystery. There is no denying that the systemic political problems we face today require nuanced thinking. Thus far, Trump has proven himself to be lacking in this department. He taps into the emotions connected to a widespread lack of faith in our government but fails to establish in a rigorous intellectual sense that he’s ready to take on the world’s most difficult job.
Benjamin Chazen is a member of the Class of 2019.