Matthew Hays (The Guardian)
Watching the bizarre Republican race for the presidential nomination leads to a strange realization: it’s even more bizarre than the last one. So far, this one is completely dominated by New York billionaire Donald Trump, who has bombasted his way to the top of the polls. The presidential wannabe has dominated clickbait-driven media with a string of wacky statements, describing Mexicans as rapists, denying John McCain is a war hero and suggesting Sarah Palin would be an effectual cabinet member.
But for many Canadians – especially those who live in its largest city, Toronto – Trump’s loopy campaign is evoking a powerful sense of deja vu. Trump looks, sounds and smells an awful lot like former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Trump has the Ford bluster down perfectly.
Both candidates draw from the very basics of that master communicator, late President Ronald Reagan. No publicity is bad publicity, so keep the media firestorms coming. And the facts, they are stupid things (Reagan said this in an erroneous effort to quote John Adams, who said the facts are stubborn things). Ford said he would solve the city’s financial problems, repeating the phrase “gravy train” ad nauseam as a means of trashing wasteful government spending. Trump has stated – in one of the looniest proposed policies ever heard – that the Mexican government would foot the bill for a huge wall along the US-Mexico border.
Ford and Trump both touted their records as successful businessmen, failing to mention that they were born into considerable inherited wealth. Ford repeatedly spoke of the incredible savings he was responsible for while defending his position as mayor. Trump continually speaks the vast fortune he has amassed (over $8bn, by his count), though the evidence of his financial worth is open to question.
Yet despite their wealth, both Ford and Trump managed to appeal to the protest vote. As Christopher Ingraham noted in the Washington Post, Trump’s remarkable bolt to the top of the polls has to do with one word: anger. Like Trump, Ford played this card remarkably well, consistently pointing to spending waste by a downtown elite as a means of tapping into suburban voter fury. The Ford-Trump axis rests on the notion that each candidate is a take-no-prisoners, Dirty Harry-style crusader, intent on destroying the established order.
And if you’re waiting for an Edward Murrow moment – when a journalist might confront Trump on the utter nonsense he’s spewing, helping an audience to see that the emperor is naked – don’t bother. When each candidate has been called on their buffoonery, they are simply perceived as candidates who are out of step with the ruling media elite. Witness Trump’s interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, in which Trump bluntly stated: “The people don’t trust you and the media.” They don’t, and as Ford learned, attacks by media pundits and journalists – who cite stupid things, otherwise known as facts – only make the candidate that much more appealing.
When Ford was running for mayor, his lengthy history of gaffes and bad behavior as city counselor led many to suggest his victory would never happen. The same is being said of Trump, but as he continues to lead by significant margins in all the polls, many are now acknowledging that if not president, becoming the GOP nominee is in the realm of the possible.
But as delicious as the Trump-brand Kool-Aid is, Republicans might want to think carefully before they guzzle back the empty calories. Consider the Ford factor: despite all his claims to the contrary, Ford’s time as mayor was largely ineffectual. Now that Ford is out of office, Toronto’s problems are far from solved, including deficit spending and a public transit system in dire need of an upgrade.
But boxer Mike Tyson insisted Ford was “the best mayor in Toronto history” (in what has to be one of the most surreal endorsements ever). Under a President Trump, similar fantasies will undoubtedly also be repeated, in the hopes that bluster will win out over truth.