Donald Trump, impresario and enigma, genius and moron. It’s fun and easy to jump on the “We hate Trump” bandwagon as it barrels down the political landscape, but it wouldn’t have to be that way. Trump, for all his egregious remarks and fallible judgment, possesses business savvy and political potential. He’s proving himself to be a litmus test for GOP voters to prove to themselves whether they will nominate the kind of person they always claim they want to elect.
1. Trump’s Got Business Savvy
During the last two presidential campaigns—and certainly during Obama’s presidency—Republicans and Democrats complained Obama lacked real-world experience, free-market expertise, and leadership skills that develop when making important executive decisions on a daily basis. After all, Obama was a law school professor and senator before he started running the greatest country in the free world. His resume in terms of pure experience and leadership qualities was flaccid, to say the least. It wasn’t an impressive resume then and it certainly hasn’t improved while in office.
When looking at Trump through the fresh lens of resume-only, like political dating—think fledgling economy seeks successful CEO—Trump’s not just a billionaire with bad hair, but a businessman who knows how to make a profit. After taking over his father’s real-estate company, Trump moved to Manhattan and began to acquire and develop real estate there. He repeatedly flipped large pieces of real estate, such as the Commodore Hotel, and turned them into successful organizations. He famously repaired the Wollman rink in Central Park in three months for $1.95. That’s $750,000 less than estimated and more than two years sooner than anticipated.
Trump also proved he knows how to get back up when the chips are down. Despite declaring his business bankrupt in 1989, and being nearly bankrupt personally, Trump recovered and went on to complete numerous real-estate projects, such as the Trump Towers (in multiple locations worldwide) many of which are financially solvent. This year, Forbes estimated Trump’s net worth at $4.1 billion. Business Insider published a 2014 financial statement Trump supplied, which reflected his net worth as $8.7 billion.
Many people have gotten so hung up on slick soundbites and flashy television commercials, trademarks of political gravitas, they forget what the country really needs is someone with some business expertise. As we discovered firsthand, when the economy flounders, it doesn’t matter how good our president looks on TV. Trump’s made a reputation for himself brokering hundreds of business deals, many of which have been tremendously successful. And when he wasn’t, he picked up his losses, and started over again.
2. Trump Has Personality
Just as Barack Obama’s winsome personality wasn’t enough to ensure he’d possess solid decision-making skills or economic intelligence, Trump’s net worth and the business decisions that got him there wouldn’t have been enough to make him a viable political candidate. In today’s age, you need both.
Trump, at one point in time, showed promise of that necessary blend. On his show “The Apprentice,” Trump seemed to possess that unbelievable, yet mildly addicting chutzpah. In that fuddy-duddy, yet alpha-male “You’re fired,” Trump showed a kind of charisma, despite its fatiguing repetition. Another side of this aspect of his personality is, of course, his ability to say some things that sound absurd, like saying John McCain is not a war hero or handing out Sen. Lindsay Graham’s telephone number on television. That tell-it-like-it-is mentality can be alluring and refreshing.
In person, Trump comes across entirely differently. In real life, he appears to slough off the scaly, detached demeanor to reveal a man who is as genuine as he is self-effacing. I sat at a table next to his at a gala a couple years ago. He treated everyone—from wait staff to Hollywood stars—with the same generosity. I sat amazed watching him as he soaked in each presentation, avoided the limelight (until it was his turn to speak) and complemented the event planners profusely and with authenticity.
3. Trump Sparks Debate
Business smarts and straightforward personality aside, Trump does lack political gravitas. Whether it’s on immigration, McCain, Graham, Trump lacks the ability to know what to say, how to say it, and when. He thinks stupid things. We all do. But he also says them. And we do not all do that.
This is where he goes awry, but this is also where he gets media. Nate Silver says Trump is just a troll—essentially that he’s not running to win, but for a cause, to sow discord, and to stir the pot. “Trump has taken trolling to the next level by being willing to offend members of his own party. Ordinarily, this would be a counterproductive strategy. In a 16-candidate field, however, you can be in first place with 15 or 20 percent of the vote — even if the other 80 or 85 percent of voters hate your guts.”
This might be the case, but I’m not persuaded. Trump sows discord because he sees things from a businessman’s perspective, not a politician’s. He’s been trained in the art of making a buck, not the art of just being a politico. He has real-world experience, not this-is-for-Fox-News experience. Then how is Trump leading GOP candidates with 24 percent in the polls, twice the lead over the second-place contender?
On his radio program, Rush Limbaugh said Trump’s outside-the-Beltway demeanor is appealing to Americans, especially when he doesn’t apologize after saying something—like the McCain remark—with which many disagree: “The American people haven’t seen something like this in a long time. They have not seen an embattled public figure stand up for himself, double down and tell everybody to go to hell. Trump can survive this, Trump is surviving this. This is a great, great teachable moment here, this whole thing with Trump and McCain.”
While at the Iowa Family Leadership Summit Trump was asked about God—specifically if he’d ever sought God’s forgiveness. Trump responded bluntly that he “wasn’t sure” if he ever asked God’s forgiveness. Trump has a knack for saying things that are just a bit off-center than what most Republicans are accustomed to seeing from a political candidate. Whether it’s about veteran affairs, social issues, or immigration, those off-the-cuff comments might serve to alienate just enough Republican sects to hurt him in the long run.
4. Trump May Act As A Litmus Test
Most politicians, especially when vying for office, stick their finger in the proverbial wind and try to lean into it. They grovel, apologize, praise, and criticize, all on cue, all when necessary, to try, as Proximo suggested to Maximus in the movie “Gladiator,” to “win the crowd.”
When Trump commented that McCain wasn’t a war hero, then on the heels of that gave the world Graham’s phone number and fails to apologize for either, he gives American voters an opportunity to decide if they want a candidate who doesn’t play by the rules. Troll or not, it’s almost as if he’s goading people: You said you wanted someone with experience. Someone outside Washington. Those things describe me. Do you still want me?
Limbaugh suggested Tuesday that Trump’s candidacy is the first of its kind: “You gotta admit, folks, this is not the way you’re used to things happening in political campaigns: A candidate talking about how rich he is, how rich his supporters in the audience are, how stupid-jackass dumb his opponents are. You just don’t hear this.”
Mark Cuban, America’s favorite shark and my favorite billionaire, has a somewhat surprising, yet similar, opinion about Trump. In the past, the two have sparred about finances via Twitter. In 2012, Trump insulted Cuban, calling him a “dummy” and yammering that Cuban, as owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has lost money, and that “he tries so hard to be a star and doesn’t have what it takes.”
On Monday, via his app Cyber Dust, Cuban wrote to his followers about Trump, “I have to honestly [say] he is probably the best thing to happen to politics in a long long time. I don’t care what his actual positions are. I don’t care if he says the wrong thing. He says what’s on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years.” In an e-mail to me, Cuban explained further: “I like that he is shaking up the status quo. I think we should take him seriously as a reflection of what people want from a politician rather than as a candidate.”
One of the best things about Trump might also be one of the worst things about Trump. Regardless, it will be an opportunity for the GOP to decide if they want what they have always said they wanted: a real person with real-world experience, or another politician, adept at playing the game.