It’s getting close to twenty years since the use of the internet dramatically changed the career situation of an elected official. I’m referring to George Allen’s unfortunate (for him) insult of a Muslim volunteer for his Senate re-election opponent who Allen called a ‘macaca’ and the slur was caught on tape.
This was in 2006, and two years later, Obama’s Presidential campaign almost went down the drain when he was caught on tape talking about all those hillbillies in the back woods clinging to their religion and their guns.
Four years later, Mitt Romney’s campaign against Obama probably did go down the drain when he was taped at a Florida fundraiser complaining about all those ‘takers’ in America who were too lazy to be ‘givers’ which is what the country needed in 2012.
What impressed me in a rather bizarre way about Donald Trump when he began his first political campaign was that he not only eschewed any concerns about committing offensive verbal behavior over the internet, but seemed to relish the opportunities to promote ideas and verbal pronouncements that would piss people off.
Not only did Trump upend what had become ‘accepted’ digital behavior (i.e., being as polite and non-combative as possible) but he created a new political brand – MAGA – which was defined by the degree to which everyone was either a complete and total supporter or was considered and described as the ‘enemy’ in very clear and noncompromising terms.
Let’s not forget that Trump was not campaigning against other GOP Presidential aspirants in 2016, as he was also openly critical of the GOP ‘establishment,’ an antipathy which became even more pronounced as he piled up delegates in the early primaries and drove towards what would become the GOP nomination by mid-year.
Trump’s big mistake, however, was to continue his no-holds-barred assault on anyone in the GOP who didn’t become a foursquare MAGA supporter both during and after the 2016 general campaign. Had Trump placed some of the lesser MAGA enthusiasts in positions of significant authority and influence during his Administration and certainly during the 2020 campaign, I believe that January 6th would not have occurred, and Trump could have spent the four years leading up to 2024 building a serious political alternative to the GOP.
The problem with the way Trump has fashioned his MAGA narrative is that his rantings and postings, while sometimes funny and often just stupid and boring as hell, is that the strength of the bully pulpit also creates social and rhetorical echoes that would otherwise remain less obvious because they attract the attention of all kinds of weirdos as well as the cops.
There is just no way that many Americans, even the most conservative-minded among them, will ever buy into the threats and anger of far-right, extremist groups like the ‘Patriot Front’ group which has announced a lawsuit against a left-wing infiltrator whose photos, they claim, are costing some group members their jobs.
But how does this bunch assume that anyone will take them seriously when they show up at public events wearing masks to disguise themselves? And why would Donald Trump want to have anything to do with such schmucks? Didn’t he learn anything from his incredibly dumb comments about all those ‘good people’ who watched the Nazis march through Charlottesville?
This is where Trump shows himself to still be a novice when it comes operating in the political environment instead of putting up another condo or office tower with his name over the front door.
On the other hand, I always thought that Trump got into politics to build his brand, and thanks to the Fake News which continues to feature his daily rants as something we need to read or hear, his brand-building is coming along just fine.