LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Donald Trump has hit the top of most polls in the US for the GOP nomination, whether you like it or not, he is now one of the front runners to be the Republican Candidate for President in 2016.
Most people, at least in the UK, will struggle to believe that the bouffanted TV personality and Gordon Gecko caricature could ever be a contender in a Presidential race, but this is America, and he is.
Those who expected him to flirt with Presidential publicity, make a few statements of self promotion and then make room for the real contenders need to take a deep breath.
Trump announced yesterday that by Thursday of next week he will file his financial records – the final significant step towards becoming a candidate, and one most pundits on both sides of the Atlantic thought he would never take.
Critics have suggested Trump is nowhere near as wealthy as he claims, and that his story of unbridled success will wilt under acidic national press scrutiny – something he will surely sacrifice his fledgling political career to avoid.
But Trump announced, here in Las Vegas yesterday, and later confirmed in Phoenix to a 20,000 strong crowd: “I built a great company – low debt great cash flow – you’ll see it all next week. This is the kind of mindset we need, the people making our trade deals are idiots, and these are the same people saying I’m not as rich as I say I am. Not that it matters but I’m much richer – and you’ll see that next week”
Having witnessed his confidence, some would say arrogance, it’s impossible to envision him stepping back from his statements.
Both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have a veritable poltergeist at their planned establishment feast, and a figure like Trump has so much scandal and outrage priced into the expectation of what his campaign will look like, it’s going to be hard for them to throw anything at him that will prove fatal.
Until I saw thousands of people cheering him first hand, some of whom leading figures in U.S. conservative politics that I have known for years, I suspected his support was entirely manufactured. It isn’t. Somehow this is really happening, and it’s all anyone in US politics or media is talking about.
I wrote yesterday that to stay in the race and turn around the immigration debate Marco Rubio would need to barnstorm and Trump would need to flop at Freedom Fest: the opposite occurred.
As in Europe, Americans are seemingly just as tired of career politicians making inoffensive, inadequate statements about big problems, Trump is an anti-politician, and one who courts offence rather than shying away from it.
Even after a few weeks of his campaign, the comparisons to Farage in Britain, Le Pen in France or even Tsipras in Greece are starting to register. Their differences may be as marked as their similarities, but the core similarity is striking: they are challenging the tarnished orthodoxy of third way politics, and clumsily crashing the politically correct boundaries the mainstream media have been delicately constructing for the past 20 years.
The great asset Trump has, in a country that still values success and wealth above all else is that, whether he turns out to be worth $1, 5 or 10 billion he has achieved something tangible and undeniable outside of politics, which is something very very few of the largest ever number of Presidential punters can claim. The uniquely American maxim: “If you’re so smart – why aren’t you rich?” looks to be the toughest question Trump can ask his opponents, and he seems happy to spend a year asking it.
Americans here have asked me what I make of Trump as a Brit, and my answer is the same as regards any of the aforementioned European politicans, Bill Murray’s words on waking the day after Groundhog Day seem most apt: “Anything different is good”.
Trump may not be a polished public speaker, and he is still unlikely to make it all the way to the Oval Office, but he has the opportunity to completely change the political conversation in America – and is already being considered as a Vice Presidential option by some of the more “politically credible” candidates (currently trailing him in the polls by some margin).
Trump announced that his supporters had made clear to him that “This is more than about you, this is about a movement”. I’m not sure I believe that Trump thinks what he is doing is bigger than him, or planned for it to be, but it is.
The Donald now holds considerable political currency, and I’ll bet he spends it like the rest of his money: more astutely than anyone would have guessed.
Benjamin Harris-Quinney is the Chairman of the Bow Group