Trying to Solve the Great Trump Mystery

Life, as we know, is filled with mysteries. Some are cosmic, like who was the first to catch a lobster and think anyone would want to eat something that looked like that? Or where do the children of circus performers run off to when they rebel against their parents?

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

Then there are trivial but entrenched mysteries like one that has bewildered countless thousands of New Yorkers. It is the mystery of Donald J. Trump, or as the conservative commentator George F. Will called him, “this bloviating ignoramus.”

What prompted that outburst from the normally decorous Mr. Will was Mr. Trump’s revival of his “birther” nonsense, an insistence that President Obama was born outside the United States despite ample evidence to the contrary, not the least of which is Mr. Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate. Mr. Trump’s latest birther spasm coincided with a new flowering of the bromance between him and Mitt Romney, who has sewn up the Republican presidential nomination. The buddies were together again Tuesday night at a fund-raiser in Las Vegas.

Mr. Will couldn’t understand why the candidate would have anything to do with the television performer and New York real-estate nabob. “The cost of appearing with this bloviating ignoramus is obvious, it seems to me,” he said on “This Week,” the ABC News program. “Donald Trump is redundant evidence that if your net worth is high enough, your I.Q. can be very low, and you can still intrude into American politics.”

The commentator thus neatly captured the great Trump mystery: How is it that so many presidential aspirants and other leading Republicans — Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, one after another — all feel obliged to go to Mr. Trump in supplication and kiss his ring? As Mr. Will said, referring specifically to Mr. Romney, “What voter is going to vote for him because he is seen with Donald Trump?”

New Yorkers certainly know better. They’ve long recognized Mr. Trump for what he is — a man beyond caricature, what with the hair and the pomposity and the sheer ugliness of his remarks (and of his buildings, some would add). For them, the mystery of the lobster is far easier to crack than the one about these Republican pilgrimages on bended knee.

In search of answers, we turned to Republican political consultants in the city, serious people like Susan Del Percio and Michael McKeon.

Ms. Del Percio acknowledged that “as a Republican watching all of this unfold, I don’t get it myself.” She, too, had trouble understanding why Mr. Romney allowed himself to be “caught up in this Trump nonsense” and be “trumped by Trump.”

But “one thing I am sure of is that this doesn’t happen by accident, and polling on Donald Trump is probably very good,” Ms. Del Percio said. Beyond this city, she said, Americans may view him more favorably than jaded New Yorkers do, and he seems to do better among them when it comes to raising money for politicians.

“Sometimes,” she said, “you have to get out of the New York, L.A., D.C. world and see that he does have a lot to offer in the sense of celebrity. He’s successful. There’s a reason he has a top-rated show.”

Mr. McKeon, who used to be a spokesman for Gov. George E. Pataki, agreed.

“I’m not going to argue with your logic,” he said after hearing our puzzlement over all the ring-kissing. But “at the end of the day,” he said, “here’s a guy who’s had some success in business, and that’s what the candidates were looking for — that kind of blessing, that ‘Yes, these guys have a plan that’s good for the economy.’”

Mr. Trump is “a validator” of the candidates’ credentials, Mr. McKeon said. Then too, “he can be a very potent fund-raiser.”

Still, “bloviating ignoramus” is a label that Mr. Trump may not shake anytime soon.

For New Yorkers, his insatiable craving for attention is a dreary, stale routine. In his own way, he’s not unlike the performer who bursts into the subway car demanding your immediate attention, when all you want is a few minutes to yourself. You may keep your head down and pretend not to see him, but there is no escape.

It’s the same with Donald Trump, constantly thrusting himself in front of you, begging to be noticed. No matter how much you try to look away, it’s hard to tune him out entirely. Only he has none of the subway supplicant’s redeeming qualities. And that guy at least apologizes for the intrusion.


E-mail Clyde Haberman: [email protected]

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