Like it or not, Donald Trump has changed American politics. His unorthodox campaign has certainly scrambled the political calculus and stretched the bounds of what is acceptable. But the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination has potentially changed things, in some cases, for the better.
Before you fly off the handle, hear me out. Three Trump actions so far come to mind. One is totally unacceptable. One is a mainstay of our politics, but how he does it is an advance. And one should be a guide for all politicians.
First, the unacceptable. The Big Apple billionaire builder’s penchant for the public putdown is legendary. On the presidential campaign trail, though, it is startling. What’s terrifying is that Trump has been rewarded for every gasp-worthy comment he makes.
Trump’s slam of Rosie O’Donnell was a stunning low point in decorum in an already undignified process. Who knew he could lower the bar further after denying the hero status of Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee and a Vietnam prisoner of war? This makes for great can’t-look-away, car-crash television. But it also coarsens and pumps more poison into our national politics. They say things get worse before they get better. The nation should not have to endure anything worse than what is happening now. As long as Trump is in the race, it will.
Bush’s YouTube response to one of Trump’s attacks was good — for 2008. Again, Bush needs to refashion that 71-second video into several Instagram slaps at Trump. Going forward, watch for other campaigns to use the popular social media site to draw distinctions between themselves and others in the race. If you can’t say it, explain it or show it in 15 seconds, you’re not doing it right.
Finally, there is the Trump doctrine: Talk to the press on your terms. The Donald has turned the marble and glass interior of 725 Fifth Avenue — a.k.a. Trump Tower — into a gilded Oz where television journalists try their best to break through the bravado to get to the substance of his campaign. What’s even more impressive is how Trump has practically turned broadcast and cable television, media dependent upon video, into radio by granting countless phone interviews. They used to be a producer’s last resort. Today, you’re practically guaranteed airtime.
The Trump candidacy points to a lot of things candidates shouldn’t do when seeking the presidency. We have yet to see the full extent of the wreckage wrought by his campaign. But following the 15-second discipline of Instagram and forcing the press to deal with you on your terms are two Trump models of behavior candidates would do well to emulate.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj