Don’t you love farce? My fault, I fear
I thought that you’d want what I want, sorry, my dear
But where are the clowns, send in the clowns
Don’t bother, they’re here.
– Stephen Sondheim – Send in the Clowns
Has there ever been a bigger clown running for president than Donald Trump? Good question. I’ve been thinking about that and conclude…well maybe, but probably not.
Oh, there have always been vanity candidates running for president, silly candidates who join the contest because of ego, hunger for attention, self-promotion or just because they had little better to do. Herman Cain, the pizza king, was such a candidate in the 2012 Republican primary. Like all clown candidates, Cain’s ego and silliness, not to mention sexual harassment allegations eventually did him in even after he (briefly) leaped to the head of the GOP pack.
Harold Stassen, once a serious national political figure – he was elected governor of Minnesota at age 31 – became a punch line by becoming a perennial Republican candidate for president. Stassen ran, best as I can tell, nine different times. He never came close – his less than perfect toupee (another hair fixated candidate?) may have hindered his chances – and he is now mostly forgotten or remembered only as a laugh line. When Stassen died in 2001 one of his obituaries referred to him as “the Grand Old Party’s grand old loser.”
Ron Paul ran for president three times, but unlike a Trump or a Cain – Trumpacain? – Paul had actually been elected to something if you call a House seat from Texas something.
Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, out of office for 25 years, ran in the Democratic primaries in 2008 and generated a surge of interest before voters discovered the true size of his ego and the true shape of his frequently nutty positions. In one YouTube video during that campaign Gravel, looking like a genuinely perplexed 78-year old, was standing next to a small river or canal. He looked directly into the camera for more than a minute without saying a word then turned, picked up a large rock and tossed it into the water and then walked away from the camera for nearly two minutes more. The ripples from the rock meanwhile moved across the water. Deep. A serious statement or just nuts. You decide. Gravel then, sort of, left politics to get involved in the marijuana business, a move that many who know him did not found surprising.
Neither party has a lock on clown candidates, but lately it seems the Republicans – Michele Bachmann and Alan Keyes come to mind – have had more than their share. But, wait, for every Michele and Alan there is a Dennis (The Menace) Kucinich, the former Democratic Congressman and mayor of Cleveland. Kucinich’s most recent Facebook posting says he spoke at a “global burning man conference” in April. Sounds about right.
Ralph Nader, a bane to the Democrats as Trump will prove to be to the Republicans, ran several times most famously (infamously) in 2000 when he may have cost Al Gore the electoral votes of Florida and therefore the presidency. Nader ran as a candidate of the Green Party, a legitimate if marginal influence on American politics. Other more-or-less serious people have mounted recent third party efforts – John Anderson in 1980 and Ross Perot in in 1992 and 1996 developed significant followings. Norman Thomas perennially ran for president on the Socialist Party ticket never coming close, but often helping enhance the political dialogue.
Enhancing the political dialogue is a good deal different than what Trump is doing as he campaigns in Republican primaries. I still think he drops out before he really has to revel more details about the web of financial deals and debt that undoubtedly define his business empire, but in the meantime Trump stirs things up and not in a helpful way for the more sane and sober Republican candidates.
Trump, to believe the polls, is the flavor of the week for Republicans. The Washington Post says he’s surging on the strength of his name ID and “message.” Meanwhile, NBC, Univision and Macy’s have dumped their associations with the blow-dried blow hard given his incendiary and racist rants against Mexicans. Some message. The Trump brand has suddenly become “you’re fired.”
Oh, yes, if you’re in the market for a deluxe Trump-branded Serta Perfect Sleeper better rush out right now to the mattress store. Serta is also changing the sheets, or turning the mattress, on The Donald. The Gawker website has a list of all the people and institutions cutting the clown lose. The list seems sure to grow.
One thing about a vanity candidate that amazes is that so few serious candidates point out the absurdity of people like Trump. Few of the “serious” GOP candidates have repudiated Trump’s bombast – do Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham and George Pataki really count – or pointed out the obvious – he’s a joke. Only Barack Obama has really nailed Trump.
During the very inside-the-Beltway White House Correspondents Association dinner in 2011 and, while Trump was keeping himself in the news by repeatedly raising spurious and silly questions about Obama’s birth certificate, the president took him on, pointing out that the state of Hawaii had recently released his official birth certificate.
According to the official transcript of his remarks Obama said: “Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. (Laughter.) And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter –- like, did we fake the moon landing? (Laughter.) What really happened in Roswell? (Laughter.) And where are Biggie and Tupac? (Laughter and applause.)”
The best medicine for a clown, after all, is laughter.
Trump is part of the long tradition of silly people with big egos and bigger heads running for president. Trump would be a disaster in public office and I suspect the vast, vast majority of Americans know it. Trump is merely famous for being outrageous, which has allowed him to extend his 15 minutes of fame way beyond his “expire by” date. The good news, at least for cable TV, is that Trump gives the 24-hour news cycle something to fulminate over as we ease into the dog days of summer. Fox or CNN can easily fill up an empty hour with clips of Trump being a chump followed by allegedly serious people reacting seriously.
If silly, pseudo-news featuring a clown is good for ratings and even (somewhat) amusing in its absurdity there is also a downside. The bad news is that Trump’s silliness further drags down the already abysmally low level of political discourse in the country. This clown will never be president, but unfortunately like a Bachmann and Kucinich before him the Donald cheapens the process for someone who will become president.