Donald Trump is running for president. Reality show star Donald Trump, the living embodiment of narcissistic excess and a guy who spends a good portion of his day calling people “losers” on Twitter, is running for President of the United States. This is a date that will be long remembered in both comedic history and on the timeline illustrating the ugly downward spiral of Republican politics in this country. Donald Trump, the biggest Bozo of all, just shoved all those amateurs aside and grabbed the wheel of the 2016 Republican clown car. Next stop, oblivion.
The best anyone can say about Trump’s announcement this morning is that it actually happened. He’s been threatening for years to run for the highest office in the land but for years this flirtation with the political media was always little more than a grift aimed at increasing visibility for his brand and his shitty NBC show. But speaking from his garish Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, he delivered a rambling mess of an official announcement in which he reportedly tossed out his original script and instead riffed on everything from taking “the brand of the United States” and making it great again to the quality of China’s leaders these days and how, coincidentally, he plans to build a “great wall” between Mexico and the U.S. (Mexicans, he said, are “not our friends,” a line sure to endear him to the terrified, xenophobic Republican base but which won’t exactly win over a substantial portion of the U.S.’s current population.)
I’m old enough to remember the years when Trump first became a household name, in the 80s when he was known solely as an obnoxious New York City real estate developer. It’s admittedly a testament to his cockroach-like fortitude that he managed to resuscitate his career as a well-known public figure for a new generation in the 2000s by riding the reality TV wave and then the social media wave. But all that says about him is that his lack of anything approaching shame has granted him the same cultural ubiquity as others who are famous for being famous: the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, every single person on TLC and so on. In fact, like Hilton, he had his wealth bequeathed to him and his job has always been to simply not fuck up his good thing. He’s a billionaire, certainly, but he achieved that success in large part due to both his father and the U.S. government he continuously berates for stifling the private sector. The thing is, even bothering to get into his history as a businessman and his alleged qualifications as a potential president is to give him too much credit. Because Donald Trump is, self-evidently, a joke as a candidate for the most powerful office in the world. And that’s fine, since a man of his unrivaled ego understands full well that winning the presidency isn’t what’s important anymore. Keeping your brand alive and expanding it is.
My podcast partner Bob Cesca and I have been talking about this phenomenon for a while now and he summed it up nicely today over at Salon: in general, the Republican race for the White House is no longer about actually winning the White House. There are of course candidates that would like to see themselves become president, but for a vast majority running as conservatives, the real goal is simply to be seen running. As Bob said, Trump’s entry into the race “vindicates the increasingly obvious analysis that the Republican Party, at the presidential level at least, is little more than a shell corporation for opportunists and careerists who aren’t interested in governing or even winning. The addition of Trump is the would-be final brick in the effort to turn the GOP’s nominating process into a dysfunctional and menacingly ugly reality show competition in which the contestants each scramble to be the most flagrant panderer to the Tea Party base and, subsequently, augment their Q-scores within the lucrative conservative entertainment complex. That’s the real prize, and Trump, above all the others, is aiming to scoop up as much of that as he can. He won’t win the nomination, but that’s not his goal, nor is it the goal of most of the field. The real race is for celebrity heft.”
Guys like Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Perry may be crazy but they’re not stupid. They know there’s money to be made standing on a stage and throwing red meat to the fringes of the Republican base, simply by virtue of the increase in visibility and clout it gives them. They may fail at becoming president or even securing their party’s nomination, but in the aftermath there will always be lucrative gigs within conservative media for those who “stood their ground” in the name of God, guns and pushing down gays and immigrants. For Trump, finally giving in and running signals that he’s ready to step up to the biggest personal platform for him and his brand yet. Considering that he’s a man with billions in assets, a career in politics would seem like a step down, but Trump is merely feeding his ego and thinking in terms of keeping his name in the public eye. We might get to call him names and dismiss him when he’s nothing more than Donald Trump the dumb-ass Twitter troll, but as a presidential candidate — no matter how inept or full-of-shit — he’s someone the media has no choice but to treat somewhat seriously. (Not that it matters; the political press is going to fall all over itself to report every silly thing he does, just like it did when he was merely teasing us all about running.)
It’s really tragic to think that this is what politics has become in our country. It was never as sacrosanct as overly exited dingbat pundits like Chris Matthews would have us believe, but cycle after cycle we’ve seen a downward spiral into something akin to pure farce. One of the two major parties in the U.S. has allowed itself to become a sideshow of cranks and grifters every four years, with the knowledge that at least one of them may wind up winning the White House, no matter how unserious that person really is. Donald Trump represents the nadir for the Republicans and for us. And yet it’s hard to work up much outrage over it because the comedy is going to be so fucking good for the next year-and-a-half. Trump’s run will be, as John Avlon said at CNN today, “as unhinged street theater as you’re ever going to see in a presidential campaign.” And yet you just know he’ll be the frontrunner as of today.