TPM Cafe: Opinion

Why Donald Trump Isn't As Fringe As You Think

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AP Photo / Ross D. Franklin

When The Huffington Post announced that it would place all of Trump’s campaign coverage under the banner of “entertainment,” I found their reasoning—“Trump’s campaign is a sideshow”—to be a little too convenient. Yes, Trump campaigns in ways that don’t read as serious, and no, I can’t envision him actually winning, but how is that different than Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann? Like Trump, each topped the polls and gained national media attention only to crash and burn.

Like many that have come before him, he’s another flash-in-the-pan candidate who is performing well in presidential polls not only because it’s early—but because he hits a nerve for (and therefore exposes truths about) American voters, especially conservatives.

Trump’s celebrity should draw suspicion, but it’s not unprecedented. Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California in a race that included Gary Coleman and a porn star. At one point, there was even talk of amending the constitution so that he could run for president. He was compared to the party’s patron saint—another thespian-turned-politician—Ronald Reagan. The GOP has no problem exploiting celebrity for political gain when convenient and the media has no problem generating clicks and ratings over a celebrity’s entrance into the world of politics.

HuffPost says they “won’t take the bait,” but what about other past GOP presidential candidates who seem more interested in building their brand for future book deals and FOX News contracts than being commander-in-chief? They took the bait then. Why not now? Even if it feels all for show, democracy allows it.

Trump’s businessman status isn’t atypical, either. Corporate executives have long equated their ability to run a business with running government. That, along with money, is why Mitt Romney was able to secure elected office and the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, how a venture capitalist like Gov. Bruce Rauner became governor of Illinois (while also believing taxpayers have no right to know who he’s meeting with on public time), and why some Republicans being polled actually believe Trump could run the country. If Trump secures the services of a billionaire—a new prerequisite in successfully running for president—his campaign may be even more viable than it already has been.

Trump may rightly be accused of bigotry, but he’s no worse than, say, homophobia’s grand slam champ Rick Santorum, who has compared gay sex to bestiality. And genuine or not, the GOP has never had a problem playing on its core base’s prejudices to win political office. So while RNC Chairman Reince Priebus may have reportedly asked Trump to “tone down” his controversial remarks about immigration—you know, referring to Mexicans as “rapists”—this is the same party that demonizes immigrants regularly. Look at Arizona’s fervent (and eventually unsuccessful) attempts at racial profiling. Look at Iowa GOP congressman Steve King, who has compared immigrants to dogs.

Or look at the wave of “birtherism” that the likes of Trump and many, many Republicans across the country aimed at President Obama for years. There was no widespread condemnation by GOP leaders. Asking Trump to “tone down” his language won’t alter the reality that the GOP is not a friend to immigrants. Or blacks. Or women. Or gays. Or trans men and women. Or the poor.

Tellingly, the only hard line the GOP has taken is in response to Trump’s comments about Senator John McCain. RNC chief strategist and communications director, Sean Spicer, said, "Senator McCain is an American hero because he served his country and sacrificed more than most can imagine. Period. There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably.”

McCain may have taken issue with the swift-boating of then Democratic presidential contender, John Kerry, in 2004, but the national party sure didn’t.

I was initially annoyed with the attention lavished on Trump’s run for the presidency, but now I realize it’s a valuable opportunity to illustrate how Trump is a monster Republicans helped create. He is nothing more than a louder, shameless example of what the GOP has become. Let’s not pretend he’s a Republican outlier; he’s their id.

Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem, and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him @youngsinick.