Acting fuels Trump's success, just as it did Ronald Reagan's | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 28, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:26 AM, October 09, 2016


Acting fuels Trump's success, just as it did Ronald Reagan's

Donald Trump has been an actor most of his adult life; first as a celebrity real estate developer, and then as the host of the reality television show The Apprentice.  Trump has a commanding stage presence, and the gift of gab. In presidential debates, Trump's opponents find it impossible to pin him down; he wiggles out of every trap.

Politics is the wrong vocation for the honest. It requires Machiavellianism – cunning, deceit and duplicity. Politicians attempting honesty, such as former US President Jimmy Carter, are abject failures. A politician who is an actor by profession, such as the late US President Ronald Reagan, is a huge success. Donald Trump is treading that path quite successfully.

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For the Trump clan, cunning began long before they dabbled in politics. The real Trump family name is very German, Drumpf. After WWI and WWII, it was not prudent to flaunt easily identifiable German names like Drumpf. As an act of social expediency, Donald Trump's ancestors anglicised the family name from “Drumpf” to “Trump.”  Up until recently, Donald Trump had denied his German ancestry. A Twitter campaign parodies Trump's rallying cry “Let's make America Great Again” with “Let's make Donald Drumpf again!”

On the campaign trail, actors can improvise much better than politicians. They are masters of one-liners. They know that the average Joes are not policy wonks, and are averse to detailed policy expositions. They want simple solutions to complex problems – one line sweeping statements. That is why Trump's simplistic, insult-laced solutions to complex problems – illegal immigrants are rapists and drug dealing murderers who must be deported; Muslims are terrorists who must be banned from entering the US, women are bimbos who must play second fiddle to men; blacks are violent and therefore must be handled with violence – resonate so well with his base.

Ronald Reagan was the master of one-liners. He joked that if Hollywood, where he was rated as a B-grade actor, had treated him nicer, he would not have entered politics. But, to a considerable degree, Reagan's acting ability propelled him towards winning the governorship of California twice and the presidency of the US also twice.

Before a debate preceding the 1980 New Hampshire primary, Regan noticed that there were only two chairs on the stage (for Reagan and George H. W. Bush), and none for other contenders like Senator Bob Dole. As Reagan was articulating his displeasure, the editor of The Telegraph, the organiser of the debate, asked the soundman to turn off Reagan's microphone. An irate Reagan thundered: “I am paying for the microphone, Mr. Green!”  The crowd roared and went wild! Pundits believe that this seemingly insignificant event may have endeared Reagan to the general public as a fearless leader who did not suffer fools easily, and won him the White House.

I always thought it was a mistake for President Carter to debate Ronald Reagan, days before the 1980 election. Reminiscent of the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate, in which Kennedy clobbered Nixon, the 1980 Carter-Reagan debate was lopsided. Carter's gentle southern drawl was no match for Reagan's suave enunciations perfected in Hollywood.  Breaking a previous agreement not to shake hands, the 6'4 inches Reagan strode majestically towards Carter and towered over him as they shook hands before the debate.  (Americans prefer tall presidents!) Reagan used put downs, such as, “There you go again!” repeatedly, and concluded his pitch by posing the rhetorical question: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”  Reagan won the debate and the election in a landslide.

After March 15, when Hillary Clinton won all five Democratic primaries, only an act of God can prevent her from winning the Democratic nomination. Thus far, Hillary has garnered 1,606 pledged and Super delegates. She needs 777 more to get to the magic 2,383. The numbers of delegates yet to be contested are 2,308. Hillary needs to win only 34 percent of the remaining delegates. Bernie Sanders has the impossible task of winning 66 percent.

On March 15, Donald Trump won all the Republican primaries but Ohio, which was won by the state's Governor John Kasich. After a 20-point shellacking by Trump in his home state of Florida, Marco Rubio, the establishment's darling, quit the race. Three candidates remain – Trump, Cruz and Kasich. The Republican establishment hates Trump. They hate Cruz more than Trump. They love Kasich, who has won only one state, and is unlikely to win more.

As of March 15, Trump's delegate tally is 673; 564 short of the target (1,237). Delegates to be contested are 1,061. Trump needs to win 53 percent of those. Cruz, who has won 411 delegates, needs to win the remaining at a 78 percent clip. With only 143 delegates, Kasich has no chance. Donald Trump will either win the Republican nomination outright, or go to the convention with the highest number of delegates.

Those who think that Donald Trump can be denied the nomination are living in a fool's paradise. Trump has warned of “riots” if he is denied the nomination. Sooner or later, the Republican establishment will coalesce around him and start singing his praise.

Whether Trump can win the presidency is unclear. Trump supporters may be angry, but the rest of America is not. Trump has offended so many groups – Latinos, blacks, women and Muslims - that they would crawl over broken glass to vote against him! Minorities constitute one-third of the American electorate. Between 80-95 percent of them will vote against Trump. Hillary Clinton will need only about 40 percent of white votes to win the presidency – the same percentage that Obama won.

There is one scenario in which Trump may win the presidency- if there is another Muslim terrorist attack days before the election.  There are unconfirmed rumours that the Reagan campaign was so worried about an “October Surprise” in 1980 (meaning that the Iranians would release the American diplomats they took hostage in Tehran in November 1979, in late October 1980, just before the presidential election, facilitating a Carter victory) that they reached out through back channels to Ayatollah Khomeini, who hated President Carter, and persuaded him not to release the hostages before the election.  

American hostages were released on January 20, 1981 - the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated president. For America's sake one prays that there is no “October Surprise” perpetrated by Muslim terrorists this year. The worry is that Muslim terrorists for hire may be a dime a dozen.

The writer is a Rhodes Scholar.

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