When Frank Rich writes this way about Trump, he thinks he's treating Trump like an idiot-savant outsider artist, someone who doesn't truly understand what he's doing, even though Rich understands it. Rich praises Trump, but he thinks he's somehow above the actual hero worship of Trump's lunkhead voter base.
Sorry -- I'm not giving Rich that much credit. He's now another Trump enabler, no better than Roger Ailes, and he's paving the way for what I fear is the inevitable "reassessment" phase of the Trump era, when the smart set will stop mocking the man and start writing pieces will titles like "Taking Donald Trump Seriously."
Here's why Rich thinks Trump is good for us:
What’s exhilarating, even joyous, about Trump has nothing to do with his alternately rancid and nonsensical positions on policy. It’s that he’s exposing the phoniness of our politicians and the corruption of our political process by defying the protocols of the whole game. ...
His impact on our politics post-2016 could be as serious as he is not. Unsurprisingly, the shrewdest description of the Trump show’s appeal has come from an actor, Owen Wilson. “You can’t help but get a kick out of him,” he told the Daily Beast, “and I think part of it is we’re so used to politicians on both sides sounding like actors at press junkets -- it’s sort of by rote, and they say all the right things. So here’s somebody who’s not following that script. It’s like when Charlie Sheen was doing that stuff.” As Wilson says, for all the efforts to dismiss Trump as an entertainer, in truth it’s his opponents who are more likely to be playacting, reciting their politically correct and cautious lines by rote. The political market for improvisational candor is as large as it was after Vietnam and Watergate, and right now Trump pretty much has a monopoly on it.
Candor? You can use a lot of words to characterize Trump's rhetoric in this campaign, but the one thing he's not giving us is candor -- certainly not about himself, and certainly not about the vast majority of the issues. Rich himself writes, in the very next paragraph, that "Despite saying things like 'I'm strongly into the Bible,' Trump barely pretends to practice any religion" -- and that's a minor example of Trump's duplicity. We know he's lying when he says he has a "foolproof plan" to beat ISIS. We know he's lying when he says he'll get Mexico to pay for a border fence. We know he's lying about his own net worth. We know he lied in the last debate about his efforts to establish casinos in Florida.
Trump isn't any less of a liar than the stereotypical politician -- in fact, he may be more of a liar than most pols. The only way he may be demonstrating "candor" is in his showy refusal to engage in certain campaign rituals, as Rich notes:
He skips small-scale meet-and-greets in primary-state living rooms and diners. He turned down an invitation to appear at the influential freshman senator Joni Ernst’s hog roast in Iowa. He routinely denigrates sacred GOP cows like Karl Rove and the Club for Growth. He has blown off the most powerful newspapers in the crucial early states of Iowa (the Des Moines Register) and New Hampshire (the Union-Leader) and paid no political price for it....
It’s as if Trump were performing a running burlesque of the absurd but intractable conventions of presidential campaigns in real time.
That's nice as far as it goes, but what we're seeing is "candor" in an area that only insider journalists care about: How does Trump deal with the rituals we find so tedious? If he's honest about this, to Rich,he's a truth-teller, because this is the important stuff.
Well, no, it isn't. What you say about issues (and what you would do) is more important. Your decency as a human being is more important. Trump is a duplicitous failure on both counts.
I agree with Rich that Trump is breaking campaign rules and getting away with it. I don't agree that this is going to change politics in a good way:
By offering a stark contrast to such artifice, the spontaneous, unscripted Trump is challenging the validity and value of the high-priced campaign strategists, consultants, and pollsters who dominate our politics, shape journalistic coverage, and persuade even substantial candidates to outsource their souls to focus groups and image doctors.... in the wake of Trump’s “unprofessional” candidacy, many of the late-20th-century accoutrements of presidential campaigns ... could be swept away....
Rich writes this even though he's certain that Trump will never be president. I'm less certain of that than Rich is -- I think it's within the realm of possibility -- but I'm absolutely certain that Trump will never be a successful president. And I know that when the Trump moment ends, whether it's this fall or next November or sometime after he's been president for a while, the Republican Party will declare itself reinvented and purged of Trump, and the mainstream press will go into denial once again about how right-wing politics generated a toxic cloud of hatred. The GOP will get yet another mulligan, as it did with Bush in the post-Gingrich era and with the Tea Party in the post-Bush era.
But won't Trump's "unscripted" "candor" be good for America? No. I think back to the last American moment when it was modish to boast of being "politically incorrect." What did we get out of that moment? We got the racist, sexist comedy of Andrew Dice Clay and Sam Kinison. We got the radio bigotry of Don Imus and Howard Stern. (Yes, Stern, whosaid of Rodney King, "He should be beaten every time he reaches for his car keys.") And, of course, we got Rush Limbaugh and his successors in talk radio (and, ultimately, Fox News and Breitbart). Remember that the phrase "politically incorrect," more often than not, is a smokescreen for racism, sexism, and homophobia. That's what Trump is making America safe for, not genuine democracy.
UPDATE: I didn't address Rich's naive assertion that Trump might bring down Citizens United, or the glee with which Rich imagines Trump toppling the Clinton campaign as well as the GOP, but Charlie Pierce is on it. Go read.
(Crossposted from No More Mister Nice Blog)