Donald Trump and the CNN Caper

Politics is theater now, as Donald Trump showed during his recent CNN “town hall” interview, for which CNN is still taking heat. All the proper people are horrified, now. But they weren’t horrified when John F. Kennedy beat Nixon—though there was a wide, if not general, consensus that that election was stolen, in Chicago (which is why Senator Bob Dole wondered, in a letter read at his funeral, if he’d still be able to vote in Chicago). JFK was better at the theatrics that year: he was better-looking than Nixon; no five o’clock shadow; and he didn’t sweat under the klieg lights.

But Kennedy was a fraud, as was his central campaign theme: that President Eisenhower had allowed a “missile gap” to develop—a gap between the missile capabilities of the United States and the Soviets. It wasn’t true, but hey—who cares? Kennedy went to Harvard, and Nixon went to—gads . . . does anyone remember? Probably a forgettable college like the one that Hollywood actor president went to. 

But Ronald Reagan had skills, the skills of an actor. Oh, wait a minute: Reagan was an actor. That was reason enough for the glitterati to despise him—notwithstanding the Kennedys’ chumminess with a number of actors, not all of whom seemed appropriate as White House guests. 

Theater requires a number of different skills. Looks is one, but only one. Voice projection counts. As does—well, the sheer bravado of the actor. Can he carry it off—“it” being the part he’s playing?

Maybe politics has always been theater in the raw: quietly approved of by the intellectuals when they were winning, but not when they weren’t. 

When Trump beat “crooked” Hillary Clinton, the intellectuals were aghast. She had gone to Wellesley, and all the proper people were for her. Trump had gone somewhere else—does anyone remember? Wherever it was, he was obviously a boor, and it was shocking—shocking!—when he won. And all the more so given that two FBInics had emailed each other vowing (and cooing) that they would stop him. But it didn’t work out that way. Trump turned out to be a terrific actor—even if he was just playing himself. 

It didn’t work for him the second time. Joe Biden is an old man who was lucky in his third campaign and got himself elected during the time of COVID. That played to his strength: he was weak, but he could campaign from his basement, and he had a good, or at least satisfactory, reason for doing so. The press savaged Trump and hid the sins of the Bidens, father, son, and (holy smoke!) other family members as well. That won’t work a second time. 

This time Biden will have to be on stage. And on stage with him (in time if not in space) may be a consummate actor, a reality TV star, a man who can make up facts and lines faster than any playwright or ChatGPT could produce them. If Trump is the Republicans’ nominee, the 2024 campaign will be a show to remember. 

A Trump-Biden rematch will be fundamentally different from the 2020 setup. In that one, Trump was, mostly, defending his record against a hostile press and its lapdog candidate. In 2024, it will be Biden—or if Biden doesn’t run, some other poor Democrat—who will be defending the policies of the preceding four years. Talk about challenges! 

The list of Biden catastrophes, which are the raison d’être of the current Democrat party, is almost endless: the woke assault on basic American values (freedom of religion and of expression) and on good schools; an open border that invites crime and drugs; endless subsidies for the lazy; an aggressive racial spoils policy; woke transgenderism and sexual perversions in the military; stagflation, crony capitalism, and a Justice Department that punishes the innocent and ignores the guilty—not to mention environmental rules that will deprive people of gas stoves and functioning dishwashers. There is no limit to what the Democrats are willing to do to the American people.  

People say Trump lies. But does anyone lie like Biden and his people? How many times have we been told by Biden’s Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and by White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre that the southern border is secure? 

It is apparent now, and becomes ever more apparent as days go by, that Democrats don’t like Americans—would you tell such an obvious lie about the border to people you liked? Americans are a problem; they really are the problem: they don’t act right, and they don’t think right. The modern Democratic Party exists to reform them: to teach them to live in the cold (where it’s cold) or in the heat (where it’s hot) and (coming soon) to eat bugs instead of meat. And to be nice little transies and to transify their toddler children as well. It’s sick, but it’s what the Democratic Party is all about.

Against that will be a litany of programs traditional Americans want: law and order, a stable currency, manageable interest rates, schools with separate bathrooms for boys and girls, a vigorous man who can deal with foreign adversaries; someone who will make it safe—as Trump did once before (so the story goes)—to say “Merry Christmas” in public. 

That may sound like low-grade stuff to John Kerry, the country’s carbon dioxide emitter-in-chief, who flies the skies in his wife’s private jet pushing a ridiculous climate change agenda on the poor slobs who have to fly commercial (yuk).

Trump has an edge over other Republicans, whether you like it or not. He’s the showman. He’s the actor. He’s the Kennedy in the race. He doesn’t have a five o’clock shadow. He doesn’t sweat under the klieg lights. He likes conflict. Conflict is his oxygen.

American politics ain’t beanbag, and maybe never was. It’s now a contact sport. Trump is as tough as a defensive lineman. But in 2024 he won’t be playing defense. 

There may be (no: there surely are) other more “attractive” Republicans who could be the 2024 nominee. But it’s not likely there will be anyone tougher. 

Whoever the Republican nominee is, he will be treated by the media the way Nixon and Trump were treated. That would be true even if the Republicans nominated Grandma Moses to run with Mother Teresa. 

The primary system will show us if there’s any Republican who’s even tougher than Trump. If so, let him run and wish him well. 

But the CNN-Trump event was a preview of what we can expect if Trump is the nominee. Take no prisoners. Shoot the wounded. Win. America may be ready for that again.

If you don’t like it, don’t blame CNN. Blame the Bidens. They made it possible. And likely. 

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About Daniel Oliver

Daniel Oliver is chairman of the board of the Education and Research Institute and a director of the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy in San Francisco. In addition to serving as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Reagan, he was executive editor and subsequently chairman of the board of William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review. Email him at Daniel.Oliver@TheCandidAmerican.com.

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