Should we take Donald Trump seriously?: Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

Apr 19, 2011

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson discusses his recent columns and the latest news. In his most recent column, "Donald Trump as GOP hopeful: Take him seriously," Robinson writes, "If this is all a big joke, I’m having trouble laughing. For one thing, the likely Republican field is so timid that nobody seems to want to step out there — and so lackluster that Trump’s pizzazz could prove overpowering. No, I don’t believe that Trump is seriously running for president. But what if he continues this charade past the point of no return? What if he pulls away from Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and the others? What if he wins primaries and caucuses? What if . . ."

Have a question about Donald Trump or any other aspect of the 2012 presidential race? Ask now.

Hi, everybody. Welcome to our weekly discussion. It appears to be National Trump Day, when columnists (me included), bloggers, commentators, barbers (mine, at least) and probably cab drivers, too, apparently are required to write, talk and obsess about Donald Trump, the helmet-haired "candidate." My take is that for whatever reason, he has become a player in the Republican field. Maybe it's all an exercise in self-promotion, but if he's starting to look like he's taking this thing seriously, the rest of us ought to, as well. Let's begin.

I'm a conservative Republican who seldom, if ever, agrees with you. But your piece on Trump is dead-on. Once the GOP primary season starts, hopefully he'll be a distant memory. His prominence now is more of an indictment of our celebrity-driven, reality TV culture than any genuine appeal. More importantly, which of the GOP candidates is least objectionable to you? I don't know enough about Pawlenty. Each of the others has some flaws.

This is why Trump is actually leading the GOP field in some polls (although not in The Post's; we have him tied for second). Look, I'm probably not the guy to tell the Republicans whom to nominate, since I'll probably disagree with him or her on most issues. But the field is weak, let's face it. I think the party's best candidate -- if he had a different name -- would be Jeb Bush. But I don't believe he could overcome the dynasty thing.

Why is it so "unbelieveable" that an average citizen can be president? Why is it that they must be a from an ivy league law school or worst an MBA program? What happened to "for the people, by the people"? I think the "people" are smarter and less corrupt. Politics and the good old club have taken the country to what we have now...a disaster.

Donald Trump is not an average citizen. He was born a millionaire and now, even given his penchant for exaggeration, he's a certified billionaire (according to
Forbes). He's a graduate of an Ivy League school -- UPenn. On your general point, I've written columns about how I want really smart people running the government. All things being equal, that has to be better than dumb. (And Trump ain't dumb -- he might be crazy, but not dumb.)

I have it from reliable sources that The Donald's hair is fake and that his hair certificate is forged... What are you hearing, Eugene??? Bob

I love the way David Letterman refers to it as "that thing on Donald Trump's head." We definitely need to check its papers.

We live in an era where news and celebrity status feed one another. Mr. Trump, like Mrs. Palin, is using politics to get in the news to enhance his celebrity status. My question: Is there a way to stop this or will we eventually have to face a Charlie Sheen candidacy? Thanks. Robert Dufour Indianapolis, IN

In a previous column I raised that specter. I think Mr. Sheen's widely panned touring show may short-circuit any political ambitions.

Sorry Eugene, But as a independent voter, I feel that its really the cable news left and other partisans that push the crazies from the republican party as serious candidates. its helps out with the, oh my gosh, all republicans are crazies act. No one who is a serious political analyst thinks the Donald has a chance in hell of getting close to the nomination. Also, lets remember that at this point in the presidential nomination process, Obama was not even a candidate, more less a favorite. He helps boost MSNBC & Fox News ratings, but other than that he is worthless.

Fior the record, at this point in the 2008 election cycle, Obama had been an announced candidate for two months. At the time, no "serious political analyst" thought he had a prayer of beating Hillary Clinton. I'm just saying.

I think the WashPost/ABC poll was enlightening and not in the way it was spun about Mr. Obama's speech falling flat. I think it says that Americans still believe that we're in a jobs crisis and that our political class is ignoring that because they don't have a jobs crisis in their world. At what point do you think the public is going to get fed up with these rather academic discussions about debt fifty years from now instead of jobs, jobs, jobs, today?

I think you're right that "jobs, jobs, jobs" is a far better political platform than "deficit reduction." Neither the president nor any of his opponents has found an effective way of talking about jobs, in my opinion.

Gene, these latest WashPo survey results have me seriously depressed. It's one thing to be blamed for something you actually have control over, but will Obama be brought down by gas and food prices? When unemployment is dropping (albeit slowly), the market is gaining traction, and even new housing starts are looking up? What do people expect?

If gas and food prices remain painfully high, Obama will lose some support he otherwise might have had. Not enough for him to be "brought down," necessarily, but some amount. That's just the way it works -- presidents get the credit or the blame for circumstances beyond their control. For President Obama to lose, however, the Republicans will have to nominate a candidate who can beat him. I haven't see that candidate yet.

If Trump is serious about running, I can't imagine his recent flip-flops on social issues would endear himself to an important sector of the Republican electorate. Given Trump's past public positions on abortions and gays, and his donations to Democrats, could he have decided to "run" as a Republican to roll himself like a human hand grenade into the GOP Presidential proceddings?

 It does not help Trump's GOP prospects that he has given all that money to Democrats and taken liberal positions on social issues. He has never been troubled by the imperatives of consistency, however.

Don't you think that Trump leads Republican candidates because there is such a fear of current politicians bankrupting our country and creating a nanny state with unending welfare programs, that a 'non-politician' is at least worth considering?

Not quite. I wrote recently about the government shutdown farce, noting that the whole thing was about the budget for the current fiscal year, which is more than half over. I said that whatever else might be true of Trump, he wouldn't be able to keep himself in hair-care products if he didn't know how to set budgets for his companies. I do think that this air of basic competence is in contrast to what citizens see in Washington.

Dear Eugene, Do you think that D. Trump might lose the support of blacks and others, and even face organized boycott targeted against his business ventures, because of his association with birthers?

You can't lose what you never had. Despite his claim to have a great relationship with "the blacks," I'm at a loss to figure out why Trump would expect African American support in the first place. The birther stuff can only keep those voters away.

You're so fond of citing the CBO, Eugene, I'm surprised you seem to have missed the Friday announcement, Obama's latest budget blueprint would DOUBLE the public debt to $20.8 trillion over the next decade. No wonder S&P is worried. That budgeting is simply irresponsible. I'm sure you disagree.

You're referring to the same CBO that said Paul Ryan's budget would put the debt at 70 percent of GDP after ten years, as opposed to current law, which would put it at 67 percent of GDP? If your point is that there's a lot of irresponsibility going around, you're right.

Gene, you're right to point out how ludicrous it is that Donald Trump thinks he can just tell Gaddafi what to do or else. But Trump's not without company on that point. There was Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who thought Congress had the power to tell the rebels in Egypt that they shouldn't let the Muslim Brotherhood onto the ballot. And there seem to be plenty of people who think we can withdraw from Iraq but still retain some sort of control over who makes up the Iraqi government. Trump's one of many, I fear, who don't seem to have a clear grasp on what the US can and can't do beyond our borders.

I guess that for some people, the notion that a U.S. president can just order everyone in the world around is comforting. This is not the case. It has never been the case.

Hey, if Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Arnold "The Terminator" Schwarzenegger can be elected governors of, respectively, Minnesota and California; Ross Perot can forge substantial lead in the polls before dropping out of the 1992 presidential campaign; and a dead politician (Mel Carnahan) can be elected posthumously to a Senate seat; then President Donald Trump doesn't sound so weird.

Those are strange things indeed. But stranger than Donald Trump as president? Really?

What is your take on Rove's motivation for trying to position Trump as part of the loony right? Do you think mainstream Republicans are genuinely concerned?

I think Rove and the mainstream realize that it would be best to marginalize and minimize Trump as quickly as possible. They probably worry that if Trump is the focus of attention in the GOP, independents will flee for the exits.

He'd be huge. Of course he'd need to knock down the White House and build something classy.

Just a little remodeling. Those columns, for example -- shouldn't they be gold?

Eugene, do you believe Trump's pseudo-candidacy will wind up serving the greater good by making the proverbial Grownup In The Room step up? All the GOP wannabes seem willing to dis Obama for this and that, yet they're shockingly timid with each other. When it takes Karl Rove to issue the most damning condemnation of Trump, what does that say about the courage of the candidates? I'm starting to wonder if they all (save Trump, who is all ego) doubt their ability to beat Obama the Candidate.

You do have to wonder why they're not jumping in with both feet. If this is such a golden opportunity, why all the hemming and hawing? I think at least some of the potential GOP candidates are calculating that Obama might be awfully tough to beat.

If we start taking Donald Trump's candidacy seriously, as you suggest, how long do you suppose it will take before we're allowed to stop? Forget his patently obvious megalomania, and his talent for putting his foot in his mouth. . . forget, even, the existence of footage showing Donald Trump sexually molesting a drag-clad Rudy Giuliani in a department store. The guy has flip-flopped on the issues faster and more than Nadia Comaneci has flipped around on the uneven bars! How long will this all take to catch up with him?

This stuff catches up to him every time he opens his mouth. The question is when -- or whether -- it will have the logical effect, which would be to make people conclude that Trump is not qualified to be president. If people begin to see him as a politician, then it shouldn't take long. But if people continue to see him as essentially a celebrity...

Look past the margins, and focus on approval. People aren't happy with Obama right now. The disapprovals aren't just haters and undecideds, but also some progressives who are sick of Obama's spinelessness. He can blow off the progressives, but that's who gave Obama the energy to take the White House in the first place.

The Post's poll showed a seven-point dip in Obama's popularity in recent months. You're right that this is something the White House had better take great pains to analyze and understand. They can't base their reelection strategy on the premise that the GOP won't field a competitive candidate.

good afternoon. Do you believe that President Obama thought he was off mike, or was this a "West Wing" moment to go on the offensive?

You mrean the president's tough talk about how he wasn't going to be "nickel and dimed" out of health care reform, etc? I have to admit, it didn't sound much like an accident to me. But I have no proof that it was deliberate.

Eugene-I know Trump does not have a chance of winning the Presidential nomination but if he did do you think he would keep his promises?

No, because his promises make no sense. He has promised to take Libya's oil, somehow. He has promised to lower gasoline prices by telling OPEC to lower oil prices. He has promised to effect major changes in China's monetary and trade policy. Give me a break.


And speaking of a break, folks, my time is up for today. Thanks for tuning in, and I'll see you again next week.

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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