National Harbor, Maryland — As I write, Donald Trump has concluded his latest Conservative Political Action Conference speech to somewhat muted cheers, and the odd scattering of boos. The speech itself does not merit critical study, as it contains no new ideas and no particularly eloquent defense of any old ones. It was boilerplate, full of applause lines with little thought behind them.
Between a call to “take our country back” and the shocking claim that “Washington is broken,” it became painfully obvious that Trump was not going to offer any interesting policy prescriptions. So the speech is mainly important for the question Trump did not answer: What the hell is he doing here?
The simplest answer—pimping his TV show—has in times past been the surest explanation for why Trump uses a bit of his valuable time to bray like an ass at CPAC. True to form, earlier in the week he reappeared in the news, a human canker sore issuing a vague threat to run for the presidency.
Donald Trump Is a (Bad) Joke
This time, he assures us, this time he might just be thinking about pretending to appear to be serious. To forestall the usual dismissal of his professed ambitions to high office, the news articles make it a point to note that a renewed contract with his network has not been finalized. There are also reports that he is making hires among campaign professionals, which seems like a cruel prank to play on what I’m sure are otherwise decent people.
I was always under the impression that a farce was supposed to be mildly humorous. Why we continue to excuse the noxious quadrennial fart Trump releases into our cramped conservative elevator is beyond me. The man is a boorish sideshow, when he’s not being a politically obtuse blowhard. What has he done to merit any kind of serious political platform?
Perhaps his greatest single contribution to conservatism was to resurrect the issue of Barack Obama’s birth certificate. After the conservative movement managed to escape being officially tarred with a psychotic, conspiracist obsession over Obama’s citizenship, Trump swooped in to get the answer to a question nobody with a brain free of mental illness was asking. He actually revisited the issue toward the end of his allotted time at CPAC.
Hillary’s the birther, he informed the crowd. To hear Trump tell it, Senator Hillary Clinton wanted Obama’s birth certificate, Senator John McCain wanted Obama’s birth certificate, but neither could get it. “Trump got it.”
Imagine, for a Moment, President Donald Trump
Yet Trump’s belief in a thorough review of birth records cannot be his only political position. What can we infer from his public statements about how President Trump would govern? I can’t believe I’m actually about to do this, but if Trump can pretend to run for president then I suppose I can pretend that he deserves a serious assessment. The following are the positions of President Trump, as discussed in his speech and as drawn out during a subsequent Q&A with Sean Hannity:
- Our leaders need to take action or people will flow into this country illegally
- Build a wall along the border with Mexico, because Trump is “the king of walls”
- “The new China”
- Economic competition
- That walled border thing probably wouldn’t help with this
- “I’m very pro-life.”
- Except in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother
- Common Core: “Common Core is bad.”
- The Islamic State (ISIS)
- “Nobody would be tougher” on ISIS than Trump
- He would find a general, like Douglas MacArthur, to “hit them so hard and so fast” they wouldn’t know what happened
- There were many boos at this point, presumably from Rand Paul’s contingent who it seems would prefer not to intervene against the scum burning people alive and selling children into sex slavery
- Point: Trump, actually
- Iran: No nukes!
- Israel: We must protect Israel!
- It’s a disaster with catastrophic results for business
- We need to “toughen up” on it
- He would “get something so much better” than Obamacare
- Social Security
- Under President Trump’s policies, America will become rich again
- This will mean that Republicans won’t have to cut Social Security—we’ll be able to afford it!
- Supports medical marijuana, but not widespread legalization.
- There were many, many boos at this point
At no point in Trump’s speech did he demonstrate a particularly keen understanding of just how he would enact his “ideas,” such as they can be called. He struck me as someone who views a president as the CEO of America, which is odd in light of his strong critique of Mitt Romney’s performance in the 2012 election. It was typical Trump bravado, and I’ll be honest: if he was selling me a skyscraper or convincing me to invest in a project, I’d likely have a hard time saying no to him. He is instead attempting to sell the idea of Trump the Statesman—an idea I’m not sure anyone is buying.
Here’s How Donald Trump Could Become Useful
Let’s take this exercise back into the realm of things that will actually happen. Donald Trump will never be president. He indicated that he is 75-80 percent sure that he is running, which at this stage seems to me a tacit admission that he has no intention whatsoever to run for the nomination. The presidency isn’t something you decide to just go and do the year before the race. He is wasting our time.
Even if he does inconceivably, actually, really, finally run for president, his shallow political understanding would quickly be exposed. This may help explain why, despite his repeated flirtation with the concept, he hasn’t yet pulled the trigger despite priding himself on his decisive and savvy business dealings. One naturally avoids foreseeable damage to the ego. It’s always better to be clamored for and demur, than to dispel your audience of its illusions that you’re worth their esteem.
Is there a role for Trump in the conservative movement? That depends on his ability to recognize his actual strengths. There is something about his outsized personality that is, if not compelling, at least somewhat entertaining. There’s also the matter of the extraordinary amount of money he possesses, something he is not shy about. These two things do give him the opportunity to influence the course of events in a productive way, for a change.
In his speech, Trump identified America’s need for “brilliant leaders,” no doubt thinking of himself. If he doesn’t see any brilliant leaders unless he’s looking in the mirror, why not grow some? He ought to abandon this coy garbage about running for president and set himself to the task of investing some of his considerable wealth in developing talented people. Train up conservative campaign operatives, narrow the technology gap, and nurture serious candidates at all levels of government. He can also lend his public voice to amplify sensible and practicable political ideas, such as a conservative alternative to Obamacare.
The sooner Trump stops wasting our time with his pointless ego-stroking, the better. Trump’s bluster will not be sufficient to carry him to the White House—it never was—but bluster is the Trump brand. That has its uses, but this prevarication benefits nobody but himself. Despite his protestations of serious intent, conservatives have ample evidence to the contrary. They should feel no obligation to entertain the clownish behavior of this man. In a business setting, if people waste your time with a pointless pitch they aren’t prepared to actually see through to completion, you stop taking their calls. It’s well past time for the conservative movement to tell Donald Trump that when it comes to running for president, he can pound sand.