Skip to main content

Trump bid a political freak show?

By Edward Morrissey, Special to CNN
  • Edward Morrissey says freak shows are entertaining until the novelty wears off
  • Donald Trump implied in interview he may run as independent if he loses GOP nod
  • Such a move recalls H. Ross Perot's runs in '90s, would hurt the right, Morrissey says
  • Morrissey: Perhaps Republicans should tell Trump, "You're fired!"

Editor's note: Edward Morrissey, a conservative, is a senior editor and correspondent for For another view, read "Trump off to a promising start".

(CNN) -- In every election cycle, someone arrives to provide a political freak show, but even by those standards, the fascination of some Republicans for Donald Trump defies easy explanation.

Trump's fame comes from his highly leveraged real-estate and casino dealings starting in the 1980s as well as his three marriages, dabbling in professional wrestling over the past couple of decades, a new multilevel marketing organization that sells vitamin supplements and a television show that made "You're fired!" into a Trump trademark.

None of this fits terribly well with the usual "family values," fiscally conservative Republican mold, and yet the freak show is gaining some big traction early in the exploratory cycle for Republican presidential candidates.

A Wall Street Journal interview published earlier this week made it a little more surreal. Not only did Trump assure Kelly Evans that he was serious about exploring a run for office, he basically told the Republican Party to nominate him, or else.

"The concern is if I don't win (the GOP primary) will I run as an independent, and I think the answer is probably yes." The threat recalls the 1992 election, when another wealthy and colorful industrialist ran for president and split the vote, allowing Bill Clinton to win the presidency with 43% of the popular vote.

Of course, H. Ross Perot never entered the Republican primary fight against President George H.W. Bush, starting off as an independent in the middle of the primary season rather than demanding the nomination and threatening an independent run if he didn't get it.

Reflections on Trump's birther rhetoric
How Trump would shrink federal deficit
Trump: OPEC laughs at U.S.

For those who seem infatuated with Trump's flashy tycoon persona and economic acumen, Perot was and is a better businessman, too. After Evans challenged Trump on his financial troubles over the years, Trump insisted that he never filed for bankruptcy as Evans suggested -- at least not personally.

His businesses were another matter. Trump's business bankruptcies include the Taj Mahal casino (1991), and the Trump Plaza Hotel (1992), in both cases losing half his stake in the reorganizations. Trump Entertainment Resorts filed for Chapter 11 in 2009, and in 2008 his Trump International Tower in Chicago defaulted on a $40 million loan.

His response to the last financial setback was both instructive and, well, entertaining. Trump blamed the global economic collapse and tried to have it declared an act of God to get out from paying back the $40 million -- and then demanded $3 billion in damages from the bank for attempting to collect on the loan.

So much for "the buck stops here." It's worth noting that his own investors have booted him from management at these holdings after his risk-taking and failures. That's not exactly a great track record for a chief executive.

At least Perot focused on real economic issues, even if he came across as a crazy old uncle at times. Trump's platform appears to consist solely of Barack Obama's birth certificate, a freak show topic that failed to derail Obama as a relative unknown in 2008. Republicans have plenty of issues on which to campaign after two years of Obama's presidency -- the economy, federal deficits and a new war in Libya to name just a few.

Instead, Trump has turned the initial campaign phase into a bad World Wrestling Entertainment script and allowed the White House to benefit as the media helps paint Republican opposition to Obama as mainly based in kooky conspiracy thinking rather than a record of executive incompetence and fiscal mismanagement.

Otherwise, this is a second coming of Perot. Trump certainly has the resources for a serious independent bid in the general election, just as Perot did in 1992. Like that cycle, a bid by Trump would split the right, not the left.

After all, liberals aren't going to be impressed by Trump's "birther" platform, unions aren't about to get behind a Wall Street tycoon, and antiwar activists won't rally to the side of a candidate who thinks we should have seized oil fields in both Libya and Iraq, even if all three of these constituencies have become disenchanted with Obama to varying degrees.

Freak shows are entertaining, at least until the novelty wears off. Perhaps the ultimatum strongly implied in Trump's interview will be enough for Republicans to tell the colorful self-promoter, "You're fired!"

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Morrissey.

Featured Deal |