Donald Trump joined the Republican race as a rabid reactionary. The speech with which he announced his candidacy was a tirade against the political leaders of the US he held responsible for letting the rest of the world take us for suckers. He blamed in particular China and Mexico – whose leaders are much smarter than ours according to Trump – for taking away American industries and jobs, and Mexico on top of that for executing a mischievous plan to send carefully selected drug addicts, rapists and ‘a few good people’ over the border. For the China problem Trump had the logical solution that we need to take back our jobs. How, that was not entirely clear, but somehow the author of the ‘Art of the Deal’ would make them an offer they could not refuse. For Mexico Trump provided more details. Not only would we take back our jobs but we would also build a wall on the southern border and have the Mexican government pay for it. When asked how that would work Trump said: “It’s easy,” explaining that the Mexicans would either pay voluntarily or via hefty tariffs imposed on their exports to the US. En passant Trump also solved the ISIS nightmare, by declaring that we should ‘take the oil.’
With his outrageous statements, on which he doubled down for a while, Trump built himself an initial base of Tea Party followers and rednecks, but then something funny happened. After his brawl with Fox News he started taking positions on other issues than international competition and immigration that are more nuanced than those of his opponents. Graciously admitting that he has taken advantage of it as a donor, he blasted the current campaign finance system for corrupting politicians by making them beholden to their sponsors, opportunistically using his criticism as a sales pitch for his own self-funded candidacy. During an interview with a perplexed Sean Hannity he wiped all unfair flat- and consumer-tax ideas off the table with a single hand gesture, and stated that the current system only has to be simplified. He suggested that the in-state quasi-monopoly of insurance companies be eliminated from Obamacare, something many experts would consider a major improvement, and said that he’d have to look at all the necessary services Planned Parenthood provides before deciding about its funding. His response to new military adventures abroad is simple: Our country is a mess and we need to rebuild it.
After the first debate of the Republican candidates, which didn’t appear to go well for him – in part because Rupert Murdoch had put a bounty on his head – pundits declared with great certainly that Trump had stalled and sooner or later would have to fold his campaign. Now, uncertainty and confusion about how far he can go appear to be the tone of the day. With his ‘new’ positions Trump even becomes an attractive candidate for some Democratic voters, and if he sufficiently distances himself from his original racist statements he might become a viable competitor in the general election.
As a left-wing Democrat, I have asked myself during every recent election season which of the Republican candidates I might be able to live with as President of the United States. Although I never thought I’d write this, currently Donald Trump leads in that poll, because all other GOP candidates are as bad or worse on the issues.
But then there is Trump the man. Watching the documentary ‘The P.T. Barnum of Business’ about the younger Trump makes you realize that he hasn’t really changed over the years, and that a Trump presidency would be an experiment in political acrobatics that is certain to crash on the circus floor.