The political community is now ever so reluctantly taking Trump seriously as a presidential candidate. He has been hiring aides, conferring with recognized Republican political consultants and pollsters. He has set out to woo the evangelical Christian base that plays an inordinate role in the Iowa Republican caucuses, and he has changed his position on abortion. He is no longer pro-choice. This sometimes happens after the soul is searched and the polls are consulted.
For whatever reason, Trump has risen to the top of potential Republican presidential favorites. Maybe this is on account of name recognition, maybe because the public likes his television manner (kind of a latter-day Mussolini) or maybe because people think the country needs a no-nonsense businessman to do the right thing. Trump knows how to fire people. He also knows how to get into debt.
In 1990, Trump was mired in debt. Some of his important real estate ventures were under water and his marriage was coming apart. He was carrying on a very public extramarital affair with Marla Maples, whom he later married and still later divorced. The Vanity Fair article, punctiliously reported over a period of months by Marie Brenner, captured Trump in all his flamboyant egocentrism. He refers to himself often in the third person (”Trump says . . . Trump believes”). He is bombastic, sometimes cruel, utterly domineering and not in the least bit fastidious about the truth. He exaggerates his exaggerations, which is an occupational failing in the real estate business, where every building is 100 percent rented and all basements are dry.
“Donald is a believer in the big-lie theory,” his lawyer told Brenner. “If you say something over and over again, people will believe you.” Brenner refused to tell Trump (or us) the name of the lawyer, but she is a reporter of impeccable credentials and she did not write anything not already known. The shocker would be a statement that Trump always tells the truth.
American political life is doing away with the back story. Increasingly, politicians are becoming religious types, Eagle Scouts who mastered all the knots, a monasticism leavened only by the occasional martini. They do not stray. They avoid midlife crises. They came out of the womb with certainty, avoided acne, married the first girl they dated and went on to make a fortune in something or other.
Then there’s Trump. He is all back story. We know his flops. We know he curses. We know his women. We know he lies. We know he has bad taste — in buildings, in ties, in associates (the late Roy Cohn, for instance, and now Roger Stone). He did not treat his wives well (according to them) and Ivana, in particular, retaliated by enlisting the New York gossip columnists. And now we must add this nonsense about Barack Obama possibly having been born outside the United States. Trump’s a birther. Why not? He’s everything else — and, anyway, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Such a man cannot become president. This is the required sentence. But the import, the gravamen, the theme of the Vanity Fair piece was more or less that Trump was finished — too much bad publicity, too many bad real estate deals, too many enemies, too much of just plain excess. And yet, like Melville’s whale or Spielberg’s shark, he keeps coming, coming, coming. His TV show thrives. His real estate empire survives. In this city, I look out my hotel window as I write this column. Before me is a huge box of bling. The desert sun enflames the name at the top: “T-R-U-M-P” in bold gold letters.
It spells BEWARE!