It’s time to take Donald Trump seriously as a presidential candidate.
Three, two, one . . . okay, time’s up.
Unbelievably, the waxen-haired real estate tycoon is at the front of the pack of contenders who are racing, or thinking about racing, for the Republican nomination. This isn’t merely improbable. It is literally unbelievable, as if a trout were reported to be leading the Tour de France.
The consensus is that Trump is not really running — that this is just another of his over-the-top publicity stunts. In the unlikely event that he goes through with a semi-serious candidacy, the political establishment seems to believe, he’ll never win the nomination. These skeptics scoff when it’s pointed out that stranger things have happened. Name one, they say.
That’s hard to do. Still, if this is all a big joke, I’m having trouble laughing. For one thing, the likely Republican field is so timid that nobody seems to want to step out there — and so lackluster that Trump’s pizzazz could prove overpowering. No, I don’t believe that Trump is seriously running for president. But what if he continues this charade past the point of no return? What if he pulls away from Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and the others? What if he wins primaries and caucuses? What if . . .
It’s all too absurd to contemplate. For the record, though, it should be noted that not all of Trump’s headline-grabbing bombast is funny. A lot of it is ridiculous and untrue. Much of the rest is offensive and objectionable.
Begin with his adoption of the “birther” line of attack against President Obama. Questioning the president’s birthplace obviously began as a ploy to grab attention — and it worked — but then swelled into a central theme of Trump’s “candidacy” as he gained traction among the conspiracy theorists who actually believe such nonsense.
For the record, Trump now gives credence to a theory that requires a massive coverup, spanning nearly five decades, that includes not just Obama and his family but also officials of the state of Hawaii — and the cooperation of long-ago clerks and perhaps editors at Honolulu newspapers who printed a “fake” birth announcement in 1961 and waited patiently, all these years, for that baby boy to become president of the United States.
But that’s just for starters. Imagine, if you dare, what the foreign policy of a President Trump would be like.
Trump is in favor of lower gas prices, he told CNN’s Candy Crowley on Sunday. The way to achieve this goal, he said, is simply to tell the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to lower oil prices. When Crowley tried to point out that OPEC doesn’t necessarily do what U.S. officials want, Trump was undeterred. “Brain power” is all that’s required, he said. “We are not a respected nation anymore. The world is laughing at us. . . . Let me tell you, it’ll go down if you say it properly.”
What about Libya? “Either I’d go in and take the oil or I don’t go in at all,” Trump said. When Crowley reacted with disbelief at what she’d just heard, Trump doubled down. “Absolutely, I’d take the oil, I’d give them plenty so they can live very happily. I would take the oil. You know, in the old days when you have a war and you win, that nation’s yours.”
What about his opponents? It seems that size matters, in terms of their bank accounts. Trump trumpets himself as a better businessman than Romney, claiming that “my net worth is many, many, many times Mitt Romney.”
Moving right along, how does Trump see one of the central strands of American history, the issue of race? He believes he should get support from African Americans, he said in a radio interview last week, but is unsettled by “frightening” polls that show the vast majority of black voters favoring Obama. “I have a great relationship with the blacks,” Trump said. “I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.”
Yes, he said “the blacks.” Twice.
Trump hasn’t been a particularly loyal Republican over the years. At various times, he’s given political donations to Democrats such as Rep. Charlie Rangel, Sen. John Kerry, Vice President Biden and the late Ted Kennedy.
What he’s been, consistently, is a headline-grabber extraordinaire. If he now has decided to take himself seriously, I’m afraid we’re going to have to follow suit.
Eugene Robinson will be online to chat with readers at 1 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday. Submit your questions or comments before or during the discussion.