How much will Trump get away with?
For argument's sake, let's say you ran into this Trump character in a bar. First off, he's boasting about how incredibly smart, rich and good-looking he is. He's a big, big winner. He's even got his own TV show, and you don't.
Next he starts in on what a HUGE success he is with the ladies, partly because of his, ahem, prodigious masculine endowment. American Pharoah, the racehorse, has got nothing on The Donald.
Trump says you wouldn't believe how many supposedly happily married wives he's debauched. Top women, trophy wives, not that flat-chested specimen with "the face of a dog" sitting with you.
Next he tells you about his hot daughter, the one with the amazing body whom he'd probably date if his supermodel wife wasn't even hotter.
In actual life, most people couldn't get away fast enough; they'd flee him as if he had Ebola. And yet millions are thinking about voting for Trump for president -- essentially because television news networks now depict U.S. political contests as the biggest "reality TV" show of them all.
And the last thing people expect of reality TV is well, realism. What's wanted is spectacle, illusion and melodrama. Less C-SPAN than pro wrestling. And in that arena, a figure like Donald J. Trump can be made to appear almost normal.
On CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and the rest, there are now only three big news stories: the 2016 presidential election, terrorism, and sporadic natural disasters -- tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. It's been that way pretty much since Trump declared his candidacy last June.
It follows that broadcast ratings, broadcasters' careers and many millions of dollars depend upon keeping people entertained. That, in turn, depends upon suspense. To keep viewers watching, the election needs to be depicted as a cliffhanger. So far, so good.
If nothing else, the man gives good TV. His exaggerated mugging and insult-comic act can even be funny. As long as people can be persuaded that his enemies are also their enemies, he's their man.
However, there should be limits. Also in everyday experience, people who brag a lot also tend to lie a lot. What then if large numbers of voters figured out that Trump's proudest boast of superior political judgment turned out to be pure fiction -- the one about how he alone among Republican presidential candidates recognized the folly of the Bush administration invading Iraq in 2003, and spoke vigorously against the war?
The mythmaking began during a televised GOP debate last September.
"I have to say something because it's about judgment," Trump said. "I am the only person on this dais, the only person that fought very, very hard against us ... going into Iraq. Because I said going into Iraq -- that was in 2003, you can check it out, I'll give you 25 different stories -- what I said was you're going to, you're going to destabilize the Middle East, and that's what happened."
Blogger Bob Somerby checked it out on LexisNexis. No evidence of a single story, much less 25, could be found. Trump alibied that the press failed to record his opposition because he wasn't then in politics.
Yeah, well neither were the Dixie Chicks. Many of the same people currently attending Trump rallies were busy burning the group's CDs back then. Had Trump said a single word against George W. Bush's folly, torch-bearing mobs would have marched on his casinos like Transylvanian peasants in a vampire movie. His TV show "The Apprentice" would never have gotten off the ground.
If you recall, France's ambassador did say in the United Nations essentially what Trump now pretends he said. As a result, french fries temporarily became "Freedom Fries." Indeed, I cherish a photo of an Arkansas truck stop vending machine offering "Freedom Ticklers" for 50 cents.
Then last fall, Trump began claiming that the Bush White House had actually dispatched emissaries begging him to tone his criticism down. Washington Post fact checkers could find no evidence that ever happened, either.
Quite the opposite. History records that Trump was an Iraq War hawk, full stop. BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski obtained an audio recording of a March 21, 2003, Fox News interview where he declared the invasion "a tremendous success from a military standpoint." As a result, Trump predicted, "Wall Street's just gonna go up like a rocket." He was eager to see Saddam Hussein's mighty arsenal.
In short, Trump made the whole judgment thing up. Unless, that is, you read the increasingly laughable New York Times, where the candidate's fantasies drew the attention of Clinton-hating columnist Maureen Dowd. She invited readers to envision "a foreign policy debate between Trump and Clinton that sounds oddly like the one Obama and Clinton had in 2008, with Trump playing Obama, preening about his good judgment on Iraq."
So the question becomes, can he get away with it?
Email Gene Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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