When an oft-bankrupted reality-show billionaire declared for the GOP presidential nomination two months ago, I resolved to do my best to shield my vision, guard my pen, and strive in all things to avoid acknowledging a sure-to-be soon-passing (if depressing) storm. Two months and three days later, though, The Donald is still among us, and riding higher than ever.
There are many good and sound reasons to expect that Trump’s summer surge will soon enough pass away, and few good or sound reasons to expect that he will ever get within shouting distance of actual nomination. But there is one comparison often being made to dismiss Trump’s candidacy that doesn’t quite hold, and which perhaps obscures full understanding of the Trump phenomenon more than it illuminates: Herman Cain.
Like Trump, Cain was a successful businessman who threw his hat into the presidential race as an anti-politician. He also at one point claimed the lead in the polls, reaching the mid-20 percent range Trump now occupies. That is where most of the similarities end, however, for while Cain was a mostly unknown former executive who was elevated in the course of 2012’s pursuit of an anti-Romney, any anti-Romney, Donald Trump is a force in his own right.
As has been frequently noted by now, Donald Trump is a bona fide media celebrity, with a long-running network reality TV show and a well-established career commanding tabloid covers before that. A real-estate mogul who accumulated vast wealth by, in his words, taking “advantage of the laws of this country,” Trump bankrupted and bullied his way into cronyism-begotten gains. He has specialized in courting public spats in order to keep his name in circulation, and has built his brand on a brash design aesthetic that one of my Parisian friends would only describe as “very American.”
Cain was a mostly honest broker who got in over his head due to structural politics beyond his control, and he bowed out when charges of scandal emerged. Trump is a degraded capitalism’s high aristocrat, and shows no sign of being shamed by scandal. Indeed, he courts it.
Trump’s celebrity status and experience do not mean that he definitely has staying power, but they do mean that his candidacy is sufficiently different from Cain, or any other of the 2012 attempted anti-Romneys for that matter, to merit separate analysis. I wouldn’t be shocked if Trump eventually pulled into the mid-30 percent range many of the 2012 alternatives reached, but I would be very surprised if reports of a sexual harassment accusation gave Trump a moment’s hesitation about jumping on the plane for his next campaign event.
We shall eventually be rid of Trump, but the mechanism of his removal is far from clear. In related news of our democracy, apparently the Independent candidate “Deez Nuts” is polling near double-digits in my home state of North Carolina.