After the 2008 election, I spent an enormous amount of time and money documenting the media-induced ignorance of Obama voters for my documentary film, “Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted.” The video I shot of Obama voters on Election Day has been seen by over 2.5 million people (not including millions more via television coverage) on YouTube.
The two scientific polls I commissioned to back up the video proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that Obama voters were frighteningly misinformed about basic facts like which party controlled Congress. While McCain voters weren’t exactly “A” social studies students, at least they fared significantly better.
I have always believed that, in general, Republicans are far more informed than Democrats. I thought this was true mostly because very few people are born “conservative” and therefore some sort of education process has to take place for one to emerge from the natural human state of being a liberal.
However, the emergence of Donald Trump as the sudden “frontrunner” for the Republican presidential nomination has made me question just about everything I thought I knew about GOPers.
How in the world a soulless self-promoter who has declared bankruptcy several times, defaulted on huge loans, claimed that George W. Bush was “evil” and the worst president of all time, had a pro-life conversion that makes Mitt Romney’s seem credible, praised Obama in 2008, recently donated to liberal Democrats, once supported universal healthcare, possesses no apparent knowledge of basic civics, already threatened to run as an independent and ensure Obama’s reelection, and probably doesn’t even have the money to self-finance a legitimate campaign, got to this position literally overnight is one of the most depressing developments in the history of the party.
While I am not yet panicked that somehow Trump will be the eventual nominee (though after watching Obama win in 2008, my view of what is politically possible has expanded enough to at least include that among the theoretically possible outcomes), there is no doubt that even if Trump never actually gets in the race, he has already had a profound and permanent impact on it.
Before I get into what Trump’s rocketing to the top of the polls really means, I wish to examine how this has happened.
Obviously, the primary reason that this has occurred is that we have become such a bizarrely celebrity-obsessed culture (and therefore our ratings-driven media is totally celebrity-driven) that if one is well known enough, then literally nothing is off the table. It is almost as if we have created an unofficial class of royalty whose members are automatically taken seriously in almost any endeavor simply because they are one of the “chosen people.”
What makes this development particularly offensive is that there isn’t any distinction between fame and infamy anymore. Being well known is just about all that matters, regardless of how or why it happened.
So when Trump approached CPAC with the proposal to speak (for what would become an episode of his Golf Channel reality show), he already had at least half of the credentials needed to qualify for a spot on the podium: He was famous enough to “trump” his extremely questionable “conservatism.” While obviously I can’t prove it, based on what I know about how things are done at CPAC (as a former co-sponsor), I would be surprised if some sort of “donation” from Trump didn’t smooth over any lingering doubts that they may have had about handing over the conference to such an obvious fraud.
Once Trump spoke at CPAC, he had the first few bricks of perceived conservative credibility on which to build his “campaign.” He followed that with an appeal to the “birther” movement that was as unsubtle and lacking in facts as it was politically brilliant. For the first time, the “birthers” saw someone important (famous) being taken seriously (only because he is famous) in the mainstream media (where he was booked because he is famous) as he strongly pursued the myth that President Obama is not constitutionally eligible to hold the presidency.
Instead of being ignored or banished to media Siberia as anyone else who has tried to promote “birtherism” has been, Trump, thanks to his celebrity and the perceived power of his alleged fortune, was able to actually make the issue seem legitimate. This gave him a political base with which to make noise in the polls.
Once the polls started to move in his direction (even though his “supporters” were probably too busy constructing tinfoil hats to know much about the real Trump), this created the perception of a “movement” and “momentum.” This of course was all the media (thanks again to the fact that Trump is famous and therefore ratings friendly) needed to rationalize covering him as if he was legitimate, which of course further increased his standing.
The most stunning example of this phenomenon was when Sean Hannity gave most of two episodes of his Fox News show this week to his “Trump Interview.” The conservative talk show host sat on his hands and watched (no doubt distracted by thoughts of how good his ratings would be those nights without having to do much work at all) as Trump made numerous statements that would have caused someone who truly cares about who will be the Republican presidential nominee to immediately take Trump down. Instead, I have no doubt that Trump, now armed with a seal of at least “no disapproval” from a rock star like Hannity, will continue to rise in the same opinion polls he is already routinely leading.
Trump is now in a position where he could be extremely dangerous. Conservatives are aching for someone with the gonads to take it to Obama and really shake things up in Washington if he happens to win. Many are so fed up that they are willing to jump on almost any bandwagon that even appears to be headed in that direction, even if the driver, like Trump, is totally unreliable. Others have given up to the point where they may be backing Trump simply for the entertainment value (heck, if the ship is sinking you might as well make sure there is some fun music playing on the deck as it goes down).
Trump will now start to attract the non-crazy crowd and will be so formidable in the polls that he is here to stay until/unless he says he isn’t running, or he inevitably/hopefully gets killed off in Iowa (can a guy who doesn’t like to shake hands really compete in Iowa?!). Because he has no substance and his supporters don’t seem to care, Trump will not be vulnerable to the standard political attacks. Only losing big or not running at all can stop him now.
Will he run? Who knows? But he is certainly putting on an extremely convincing act that he is (why else the pro-life conversion and the sudden embrace of Christianity?), and thanks to these poll numbers, he almost seems forced into making a go of it. Regardless, his presence has already had a potentially decisive influence on the race’s outcome.
There is no doubt that, in different ways, Trump has had a deep and negative impact on the nomination prospects of Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.
No one knows if Palin is even running (for the record, I am still pretty sure she has not yet ruled it out), but Trump has attracted many of the “give me someone with balls and the celebrity to use them” crowd that might naturally be Palin supporters. Whether they would return to her if she were to announce is unknown, but the fact that they have at least temporarily abandoned her in polls saps her cause of energy and leverage.
Obviously Trump also steals the mantle of “successful business guy” that would otherwise go to Romney. Since Mitt’s entire strategy is based on getting to 35 percent and outlasting everyone else with his cash, Trump’s emergence is a deathblow to him.
There is also little doubt that Trump has sucked a lot of the oxygen out of the air which would ordinarily go to Pawlenty. Pawlenty is closest to actually announcing and is most in need of an increase in recognition, which could easily spark a victorious run based on the notion that he possesses a unique biography that can work in both a primary and a general election.
There is an adage that a society tends to get the government it deserves. If the same is true of political parties and their presidential nominees, based on how easily at least a quarter of Republicans have already been duped into supporting Donald Trump, four more years of Obama might actually be better than we deserve.
John Ziegler is currently a documentary filmmaker who most recently released a movie on the 2008 election called, “Media Malpractice… How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted.” He has also been in radio talk show host in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Louisville and Nashville. Ziegler has written two books and has appeared live on numerous national television shows including the Today Show, The View, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC.