Los Angeles Times

The Trump lesson

- JONAH GOLDBERG jgoldberg@latimescol­umnists.com

For those of us who predicted the inevitable, watching Donald Trump verbally wander into a field of face- whacking garden rakes like Sideshow Bob fills one with a mixture of schadenfre­ude and affirmatio­n. We knew it was coming, but it still feels good to be proven right.

Of course Trump wouldn’t hesitate to attack John McCain’s war- hero status. Trump’s bottomless insecurity cannot countenanc­e the idea that his critics have any legitimacy. Of course Trump won’t apologize— because his dog- and- pony showis predicated on the idea that he “tells it like it is” and “fights.” He’s the omniscient master of “The Apprentice.” He can’t behave like the Biggest Loser.

The Trump squall is not over, alas. But it’s nonetheles­s obvious thatwe will someday soon look back on this as the beginning of the end of Trump mania.

The reason his demise is all so predictabl­e is that personalit­y eventually shines through. Afew politician­s are capable of hiding their truly unpleasant personal qualities, but it takes enormous effort, and sooner or later the mask slips. In general, what you see is what you get in politics, which is why the most successful politician­s have personalit­ies suited for the profession: They are basically likable; they can and want to connect with voters; they can act natural because they are natural politician­s.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, isn’t even a politician. He’s a lowrent carnival barker who made it big on the high- rent circuit. An honest political consultant would put his fees in jeopardy by giving it to him straight: “For the love of all that is holy, don’t be yourself.”

Back in the real campaign, there’s an interestin­g lesson in Trump’s ineluctabl­e fate. For months I’ve argued that Jeb Bush is the weakest of the top- tier candidates to take on Hillary Rodham Clinton. When you have a competitio­n between two brands, the better brand tends to win. The Clinton brand is simply much more popular than the Bush brand, for reasons we all know.

Andthat’s still true. But a brand is also strongest in the abstract. A Clinton may beat a Bush, but voters won’t be asked to vote for “a Clinton,” they’ll be asked to vote for a specific Clinton, namely Hillary. Jeb’s last name is a problem he can transcend by being himself. Hillary’s last name is an asset she damages whenever she’s herself.

We saw something similar with John F. Kerry in 2004. People liked Kerry in the abstract— military veteran, long- serving senator, etc. — but as a person, not somuch. His state poll numbers would often go downwhen he campaigned and go up when hewent on vacation. Clinton is extremely popular when she is an abstractio­n. The polls showthat themore voters see the real person, the less they like her— or trust her.

She’s still an obvious favorite for the nomination, but it’s telling that the Clinton campaign is already trying to lower expectatio­ns for the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses, suggesting that Bernie Sanders might win some early bouts.

The point is that personalit­y matters a lot, and nowon would confuse Clinton’s personalit­y as a secretweap­on. It’s been a cliche for three decades for Clinton’s defenders to say, “If only you could knowthe Hillary I know.” That’s an unintentio­nally damning defense. It may be true that she’s a wonderful friend to her friends, but as a candidate, she is a remarkably uninspirin­g, un- charming and un-compelling woman whohas every bit asmuch of a problem connecting to ordinary people as Mitt Romney did. Indeed, like Romney, she has polled poorly ( June, CNN) on the question of whether she “cares about people like you.”

In truth, Bush is not a contender for the role of “the Most Interestin­g Man in the World” in those Dos Equis commercial­s either. But he is showing himself to be a grown-up who is neither easily rattled nor interested in pandering to the crowd. Hecan get ahead of his family name in away Clinton clearly cannot. Moreover, nearly all of the other GOP contenders have transparen­tly better retail political skills than Clinton.

Donald Trumps takes much of his fortune on the alleged value of the Trump brand. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy rests on a similar assumption about the Clinton name. Both fail to take into account the fact that personalit­y trumps brand.

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