Deal With It!
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Why Trump’s latest hit show is driving the political elite crazy.
There are some things you just can’t do in politics, not at the presidential level, anyway.
This is a game like any other, with rules honed over decades by the pros in blue blazers clutching focus-group results: Be likable. Don’t make enemies. Respect the party elders. Avoid funny hats. And never wear white bucks or French cuffs to the Iowa State Fair, a flyover fantasyland of cholesterol and common decency where the life-size butter cow grazes behind glass with the life-size butter Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly.
That’s why Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wore jeans to pose atop the hay bales this year. Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina featured pink plaid—Farmer Jane meets Disney princess—and Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton dug up a blouse of blue gingham, hoisting her pork chop on a stick like a blue ribbon for authenticity. They all played it well, adhering to the sacred promise that if they pretend to be like everyone else, voters might think they actually are.
Then a buzzing came across the sky. A $7 million Sikorsky helicopter, sent over six states in at least four hops by its billionaire owner, descended in tight circles on the crowd, the name of the Republican front runner for the 2016 presidential nomination emblazoned on the tail. Donald John Trump, at roughly 25% in the national GOP polls, about twice his nearest rival, emerged in Des Moines with his golden mane encased in a big ruby baseball cap, his cuffs flashing diamond links and his shoes shining brighter than bleached teeth.
The state trooper in charge of the event told the governor that in all his years working the fair, he had never seen a candidate mobbed like Trump. All the competition could do was stick to their scripts. When someone asked Clinton if she had noticed Trump circling overhead, she claimed ignorance. “I was just looking at the people,” she said. Trump, for his part, didn’t pretend to care much for the pork chop on a stick. One bite and he put the silly thing down. The rules have changed. He didn’t need it.
Three days later, back in his corner office in Manhattan, a brass-rimmed Fifth Avenue trophy case in a golden building overlooking Central Park, Trump reflects on the secret of his seemingly instant rise from real estate and reality TV to the center ring in the big top of presidential politics. “People don’t understand,” he says, meaning all the experts who have spent the summer writing him off. “You come in on a Boeing 757, and you get out of a helicopter, and you go over to the fair, and you give the kids the rides, which the kids loved. But you land in this incredible Sikorsky, and people like it.”
He always thought that President Jimmy Carter had it wrong back in the 1970s, when he would walk off Air Force One carrying his own suit bag in a show of solidarity with regular folk. “They don’t want that,” Trump continues. “They want someone who’s going to beat China, beat Japan.”
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