During CNN's "Final Five" interview with Donald Trump, Wolf Blitzer showed the Republican front-runner an ad of women reading his derogatory quotes about women and asked whether those comments had hurt his campaign. Trump's response was revealing — and right.
Here it is:
No. I think people understand. I think people — first of all, half of that was show business. The dropping to the knees, that was in "The Apprentice." The Rosie O'Donnell stuff.
But I think people understand. Look, these politicians, I know them. They say far worse when they're in closed doors or where they're with a group of people that they trust. This — a lot of that show-business stuff.
"Show business." "Show-business stuff."
Trump's argument is, essentially, I said a lot of that offensive stuff when I was playing a character named "Donald Trump" on TV. You can't hold Donald Trump,the presidential candidate, responsible for what Donald Trump, the entertainer, said.
Know what? He's right — at least in the eyes of his many supporters. Since the start of his campaign, Trump has said things that would have ended the campaigns of more traditional politicians. He likes war heroes who weren't captured. His full frontal assault on Fox News and Megyn Kelly. His call for a total ban on Muslims entering the country. His initial refusal to condemn the KKK. His laissez-faire attitude about the violence at his rallies. His comments on Mexicans.
Imagine, say, former Florida governor Jeb Bush saying that he prefers his war heroes not to be captured. It would be a GIANT story. Bush would have to apologize, he would have to hold an event with veterans, he would have to answer questions not only about whether he had hurt his own campaign but whether he damaged the Bush political legacy writ large. For Trump, it was a story easily shrugged off.
With Trump, there's a sense among his supporters that when he says something outlandish or controversial that he's just saying it and probably doesn't mean it. "That's just Donald being Donald," you hear over and over again.
Here's the problem with that logic: Where does Donald Trump the entertainer end and Donald Trump the politician begin? How much of what he says day in and day out as the Republican presidential front-runner is meant as "show business"? And how and when does he draw the line between show business and serious political pronouncements?
Trump's background as a celebrity and an entertainer is the launching pad for his entire candidacy. It's often difficult to distinguish between his "you're fired" show-business persona and his straight-talk political persona. To me, they are one in the same.
That's what makes running against Trump — and reporting on him — so hard. He is given a pass for the things he says that lots of other politicians don't get. But even as he is judged by a show-business standard, he is running not to be celebrity in chief but to be commander in chief. At the end of all of this, Trump isn't picking a person to work in his organization. He's running to be the most powerful person in the world. His supporters — and the man himself — don't seem to see a difference.