The march of the 2020 phonies begins
Prospective Democratic challengers try, and fail, to be ‘authentic’
Of the many expectations President Trump has blown to smithereens, perhaps the most basic is that a candidate has to be someone they’re not in order to win over voters. Don a mask of politesse, flash endless forced smiles, go fishing, dance awkwardly on “Ellen,” eat a corn dog at a state fair and pray that it all translates to “relatability” and its even more valuable cousin, “likability.”
The ruling class — they’re just like us! Except they’re not.
As a candidate and as president, Mr. Trump be a saint — because he’s not one.
There wasn’t a need to “humanize” Mr. Trump — because as a non-politician, he was already considered “one of us.” He simply asked voters to take him as he is and trust him to “make America great again.” And they did.
His opponents attack him for being dishonest, but he is about as straightforward a political figure as we’ve ever had. They project onto him their own deficiencies and fakery. They pose as champions of virtue, tolerance and compassion but engage in deceit, intolerance and viciousness.
Mr. Trump’s refusal to join their pantomime reveals them to be the phonies they are; hence their ever-more deranged anti-Trump frustration.
As the 2020 election cycle gets underway, we’re already seeing candidates who have Lizzie from the Boston block.
For her announcement, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand made the now-de rigueur trip to “The Late Show,” where Stephen Colbert had to rescue her from an interminable deer-in-theheadlights pause. Up next: Kirsten makes frittatas with Rachael Ray.
Sen. Cory Booker announced his run from a gritty Newark neighborhood which screamed “street cred.” No word if his imaginary drug dealer friend “T-Bone” was on hand.
Sen. Kamala Harris has had the most successful launch so far, which she then muddied by casually endorsing the total elimination of private health insurance as part of a radical “Medicare-for-all” plan. After biting criticism, she backtracked, only to backtrack from the backtrack. She began the week looking like the first viable black female presidential candidate and ended it looking like a garden-variety pol.
Of course, recent history is littered with politicians who’ve engaged in stunts to better connect with ordinary folk: Richard Nixon exclaiming “Sock it to me!” on “Laugh-In”; Michael Dukakis riding a tank in the combat zone of Michigan; George H.W. Bush’s professed love of
His opponents attack him for being dishonest, but he is about as straightforward a political figure as we’ve ever had. They project onto him their own deficiencies and fakery.
beef jerky; Bill Clinton answering the boxers-orbriefs question on MTV; a camouflage-jacketed John Kerry asking a rural store owner “Can I get me a hunting license here?”; Barack Obama dropping in on Ben’s Chili Bowl; Mitt Romney’s carefully disheveled hair; Hillary Clinton proclaiming “I ain’t no ways tired” in a black church; just about every presidential candidate’s hedging on issues was based on what they thought a particular audience wanted to hear.
None of this really works anymore, because Mr. Trump has crushed the expectation of political falsity. He has conditioned voters to want their political appeals straight-up, no chaser. This is why true-believing socialists like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria OcasioCortez have resonance.
When politicians pander now, it’s no longer just cringe-worthy. It’s seen as desperate, pathetic and worse, passe.
Mr. Trump has changed the game. Contrived opportunism is out. Raw authenticity is in. And all of his potential challengers are still trying to figure out how to fake that.