The words were from an anonymous Palm Beach resident in 1995. But they’re truer than ever. The occasion of this particular remark was an article about the conspicuous grandeur of Trump’s newly opened Mar-A-Lago Club in West Palm Beach. The former estate of society hostess Marjorie Merriweather Post, in the hands of the real estate mogul (mogul is one of those words that still allows itself to be seen with Trump in public), had become a magnet for Big Names. The Thursday of the article, George Will was appearing there to address 275 select guests.
It was quite the evening. I assume. I was seven.
But Donald Trump does not remember it fondly.
He and George Will have been publicly feuding of late. Will called him a “bloviating ignoramus,” which is “like, the most George Will thing anyone could ever say,” to quote Tom Ley at Deadspin.
“I do not understand the cost-benefit here,” Will said on ABC’s “This Week.” “The costs are clear. The benefit — what voter is going to vote for him because of Donald Trump?”
Trump volleyed back, via Twitter, calling Will “the dumbest (and most overrated) political commentator of all time,” “strictly third rate,” and noting, “George Will totally ‘bombed’ at The Mar-a-Lago Club. I was there to watch. He was embarrassed and no longer likes Donald Trump.”
My general tendency is to think that the person who whips out the most syllables wins the argument.
“You are a simian sybarite,” I used to tell people whom I wished to insult. But the difficulty with these polysyllabic put-downs is that I was never quite sure how to pronounce them. Sometimes I got them mixed up. Once I responded to a bully by calling her a “colossus.” She was less insulted than confused, and I went home and discovered that I’d inadvertently suggested that she bestrode the earth.
George Will got his man all right.
But Trump wins this round.
He always wins. Every time his name is mentioned, he grows in power.
Donald Trump has been professionally disliked for decades. He cultivates this. The ham loaf atop his head. The gravelly voice. The shambling zombie of “The Apprentice” and the “Celebrity Apprentice” on NBC. The splashy, gaudy hulks of real estate with his name on them. He doesn’t want to be liked. That would ruin his brand.
His whole charm is that he is tactless, tasteless and seems to have slid slightly to the left on the evolutionary scale. If he appears to be a troglodyte with bad hair and nothing of value to add to the discussion, this is an image he has been carefully developing for decades. Mere words cannot touch him. If all it took to make Donald Trump go away was to call him a “bloviating ignoramus” with whom it would be better not to associate, he would have vanished centuries ago.
And sure, the cost-benefit analysis is clear. If you know a man by the company he keeps, then to associate with Trump is the kiss of death. But there’s more to it than that.
Anyone who watched Trump on CNN knows that he is not simply what Will called him “redundant evidence that if your net worth is high enough, your I.Q. can be very low and you can still intrude into American politics.” He’s a master at getting attention. Frivolous? Serious? Birth certificates? China policy? It doesn’t matter.
This is exactly what he wants. As long as we talk about him, he wins the showdown.
He’s a bad surrogate, sure. I wouldn’t let him kiss a baby, much less carry one. But Trump speaks for no one but Trump. The only positive effect of standing near him on a stage is the same benefit that redounds to brides who scrounge exceptionally hideous cave-dwelling creatures for bridesmaids. You look good in comparison, although people may wonder how you met. And fraternize too long with him and perhaps you start to sound like him.
But denouncing him won’t do any good. It takes no effort at all. To dislike The Donald is the default position of almost everyone alive. He won’t stop unless we stop talking about him. And what are the odds of that? Just look at me now.
The only thing worse than being called a “bloviating ignoramus,” Donald Trump realized early on, is not being talked about at all.