Don­ald Trump: today’s ‘crazy-brave’

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Richard E. Vatz Richard E. Vatz is pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion at Tow­son Univer­sity and is au­thor of “The Only Au­then­tic Book of Per­sua­sion.” His email is rvatz@tow­son.edu.

The ex­pla­na­tion for the suc­cess of Don­ald Trump today lies in a col­umn writ­ten 43 years ago — “Water­gate: The Phony-Tough Meet the Crazy-Brave” — by Wash­ing­ton Post writer Ste­wart Al­sop.

Ar­guably one of the finest col­umns ever writ­ten, it out­lines two sub­sets of how the rea­son­able, de­cent “phony-toughs” (those who act tough as nails while pri­vately liv­ing in ab­ject fear) in the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion were mys­ti­fied by the “crazy-brave” (those who are ir­re­spon­si­bly afraid of noth­ing and act on their fear­less­ness), far-right out­siders such as G. Gor­don Liddy, who sup­port doomed-to-fail poli­cies, such as those rep­re­sented un­der the gen­eral la­bel of “Water­gate.”

Al­sop said the crazy-brave “ex­er­cise a kind of hex or dou­ble whammy on the phony-tough, and they keep get­ting the phony-tough into ter­ri­ble trou­ble.”

Fast-for­ward to 2015-2016, and you have the crazy-brave per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of Don­ald Trump, who’s al­ways do­ing crazy things that ought to get him in trou­ble, but don’t — much like Al­sop’s crazy-braves.

What makes Mr. Trump un­usual among crazy-brave prin­ci­pals are his fal­si­fi­able claims, such as his main­tain­ing that he never sup­ported the Iraq War, de­spite a widely seen video of a 2003 Howard Stern show wherein he says he does. The same with his al­leged Libyan war op­po­si­tion, de­spite the fact that he said on Piers Mor­gan’s show on March 28, 2011, “And at this point, if you don’t get rid of Gad­hafi, it’s a ma­jor, ma­jor black eye for this coun­try.”

What is the ef­fect on Mr. Trump’s pub­lic sup­port when such in­dis­putable con­tra­dic­tions (and oth­ers) are it­er­ated? He con­tem­po­ra­ne­ously rises in the polls vis-avis Hil­lary Clinton. This au­to­matic rise may have re­cently been at­ten­u­ated by his Cap­tain Queeg-like pur­suit of a for­mer Miss Uni­verse and the rev­e­la­tion of a 2005 video in which Mr. Trump — in shock­ing pro­fan­ity — brags of his sex­ual prow­ess, uses ob­scene ref­er­ences to women’s body parts and fol­lows up with the cur­rent-day disin­gen­u­ous apol­ogy: “I apol­o­gize if any­one was of­fended.” Even crazy-braves can go too far.

Mr. Trump’s will­ing­ness be­fore the se­cond de­bate Sun­day to put to­gether a news con­fer­ence with al­leged sex­ual as­sault vic­tims of Bill Clinton, plus his ref­er­ence to such dur­ing the de­bate, cer­tainly were acts that only a crazy-brave would dare.

At a Jan­uary po­lit­i­cal cam­paign rally, one of Mr. Trump’s most re­veal­ing quotes — one that also did not cause a prob­lem for Mr. Trump with his fol­low­ers or team — was “I could stand in the mid­dle of 5th Av­enue and shoot some­body, and I wouldn’t lose vot­ers.” When CNN asked him to elab­o­rate on his re­marks, like any charis­matic politi­cian, Mr. Trump re­fused to do so. Such po­lit­i­cal fig­ures do not self­de­mys­tify.

Kellyanne Con­way, the rel­a­tively new Trump cam­paign man­ager, pe­ri­od­i­cally faces hos­tile me­dia in­cred­u­lous at what Mr. Trump has said. When ini­tially Mr. Trump re­fused to re­tract his birther state­ment that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, Ms. Con­way stated un­equiv­o­cally that Mr. Trump did not in fact be­lieve the pres­i­dent was for­eign-born. Mr. Trump’s sup­port, again, in­creased. Ms. Con­way dis­played no em­bar­rass­ment or dis­com­fort, and Mr. Trump is­sued a gen­eral state­ment that some of his sup­port­ers may dis­agree with him from time to time, but that’s OK.

Mr. Trump does not care if his mes­sages are in­con­sis­tent or even con­tra­dic­tory. As long as his acolytes, like spokes­woman Con­way, re­main loyal, they have job se­cu­rity, even if their mes­sage some­times is at odds with their Pied Piper.

The crazy-brave are so mag­i­cal to their fol­low­ers that they largely suc­ceed un­til they get power and indis­putably fail, by which time their phony-tough sup­port­ers are left to say, “No one could see this com­ing.” For Mr. Trump, that would come only af­ter he be­comes pres­i­dent.

Of the Nixon phony-toughs in­volved pe­riph­er­ally in the Water­gate scan­dal, Mr. Al­sop asked: “How could peo­ple who were clearly not mo­rons have been such god­dam fools?”

It is all due to the abil­ity of crazy-braves to mys­ti­fy­ingly suc­ceed and avoid con­se­quences (for a time) wherein the rest of us would have failed and suf­fered. With the lat­est rev­e­la­tions, how­ever, crazy-brave Don­ald Trump may be de­mys­ti­fied be­fore he has a chance to take of­fice.

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