Donald Trump was the star of the now-cancelled TV show The Apprentice. That show was misnamed in that it had nothing to do with apprenticeship.
An apprentice is one who works under the direction of a mentor to develop the necessary skills to be proficient in a job. The classic progression for an apprentice is from a well qualified entry level worker to become a journeyperson and finally to become a master craftsperson.
In his performance as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, to this point, Trump has demonstrated little of the knowledge or skills required of an apprentice. He appears to still be very much in the early stages of development and a learning mode when it comes to things governmental.
Trump has, however, demonstrated a consummate ability as a sorcerer. He is a master of the craft of wizardry who according to polling has a relatively large percentage of the American public under his spell.
How and why has he been able to do this and what does it mean? Let’s take a look.
The reasons for Trump’s ascendancy, in no particular order, include the following
- Trump captured a wedge issue — illegal immigration — and made it his own. He did this through attacking language and a take-no-prisoners approach that stunned and appalled a few of his Republican presidential rivals but pleased a portion of the American public.
- The power of Trump’s brand and his national name recognition. It was somewhat strong in the business and real estate development world before the debut of The Apprentice in 2004. His 14 season tenure as the major domo on that widely popular show and the spin-off The Celebrity Apprentice made Trump a household word.
- Trump’s unique capability to exploit the traditional media’s nearly insatiable desire to have controversial “red meat” comments to fill the vacuum of an endless and mostly irrelevant 24×7 news cycle has resulted in him getting more media coverage than all of his Republican rivals together. This combined with Trump’s ability to use the social media and Twitter to stir up the hormone nest whenever things appear to be going Trump-silent has made his presence transcendent.
- Trump has struck a responsive chord with the angry and the alienated voter who is completely disenchanted and dissatisfied with the performance of the government on all fronts and at all levels. The Tea Party is part of this constituency but it is much larger than that. He speaks for and to many who feel excluded or believe their influence as a majority is diminishing.
- Trump’s status as a member of the outsider’s club. The other members of this club in the race for the Republican nomination for President are Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Frankly, given their socio-economic status, it’s hard for us to consider any of them “outsiders” — especially Trump who due to his clout in a number of areas might be labeled the ultimate “insider”. Nonetheless, the fact is that, in this instance, he is not part of the establishment (i.e., an elected public official). Therefore, an outsider he is.
- Trump’s braggadocio and bombastic and belligerent pronouncements represent a form of discourse that has become commonplace in the 21st century popularized by shock jocks and talk show hosts who have replaced speaking with screaming. Some have said they like Trump because he “tells it like it is.” -More accurately, it should be said, they like Trump because he says it the way they want to hear it – whether it is factually accurate or not.
- Finally, there is Trump, the “bright, shiny object” — a bright shiny object is one that deflects a person’s attention from concentrating on the real issues or matters at hand. Carly Fiorina used this phrase to refer to candidate and campaign tactics in a session with Meet the Press. Bright, shiny object has become the term of art or artifice in the summer of 2015. And, no object has shone brighter or shinier during this time period than Donald Trump.
This brings us back to the concept of an apprentice. During a recent interview with conservative radio talk show host, Hugh Hewitt, Trump stumbled in trying to respond to a question on opposition military leaders in the Middle East. He accused Hewitt of asking “gotcha questions” and proceeded to tell him, “I will be so good at the military. I will make your head spin.”
Trump will get this chance on September 16. That’s the date when Hewitt along with Jake Tapper, the host of “The Lead”, will co-moderate the second Republican presidential campaign debate to be held on CNN.
We don’t know whether Trump will make Hewitt’s head spin then or later. But, we’ll take his word for it that he will.
That’s because we know Trump is one really smart guy. We know that is so because Trump has told us that himself on more than one occasion.
We also know that in spite of the polls showing Trump’s popularity with likely Republican voters, that it is still quite early in the presidential campaign season. In 2003, at this time of year, Howard Dean was leading in the Iowa Democratic polling, and in 2011, Michelle Bachmann won the Republican straw poll.
In an average of national polls, Trump’s favorable ratings have gone up and his unfavorable ratings have gone down since June. His, overall ratings are still not good, however, with his unfavorable rating at 54.1% and favorable rating at 38.7 percent. That’s a negative difference of 15.4 percent.
Time will tell whether this difference will make Trump’s candidacy for the Republican nomination disappear. If it does, we are certain of one thing. And, that is Trump, the sorcerer, in his final feat of legerdemain as a candidate, will make himself disappear.
He will do so — not by going quietly into that good night. We don’t know exactly what he will say but are confident that he will spin and tweet his version of the truth in verbiage heard around the world.
That’s the way the Donald will do it and those in the media would want it.
In the interest of full disclosure, Frank Islam is on Hillary Clinton’s national finance committee.