Will The Donald pull a Perot on the Republicans?

By Jayson Jacoby May 02, 2011 04:17 pm

I’m a registered independent but I have considerable respect for the Republican Party’s electoral acumen.

The GOP, after all, has won seven of the past 12 presidential elections.

And in the past 18 years the party has amassed a level of legislative power, particularly in the House, that had eluded it for decades.

But lately I’ve begun to wonder whether the Republicans, or at least a significant percentage, are going a little soft in the head.

With the 2012 election 18 months away — an election that likely will determine whether the Republicans maintain their momentum from the 2010 mid-terms or are destined for four years of pointless squabbling with a second-term President Obama — the Grand Old Party’s greatest hope, the bearer of its standards, is.....

Donald Trump.

I mean if the Republicans insist on putting a charismatic but slightly kooky billionaire out there to challenge Obama, better options exist.

Ross Perot is still alive.

Help Perot dust off the pie charts from ’92 and send him out on the stump with Paul Ryan.

It’d be like taking Econ 101 while on mescaline.

Plus, “Saturday Night Live” would have to bring back Dana Carvey.

(Although Darrell Hammond’s portrayal of Trump is spot-on, too.)

The Republicans deploying Perot is the political equivalent of the military presumptive strike.

Certainly the GOP doesn’t want him slinking, torpedo-like, out of retirement next year as a third-party candidate. Perot would turn whoever the Republicans put on the ballot into an electoral Lusitania.

Obama would celebrate such a move, though — Perot has already paved the road to the White House for one Democrat, Bill Clinton in 1992.

(Not that Democrats are immune to this sort of thing. Just ask Al Gore about Ralph Nader.)

I understand that the Republicans have in the past thrived with leaders who had a certain telegenic style.

But Trump, on that score, is the antithesis of the party’s most famous practitioner, Ronald Reagan.

Trump can afford any hair he wants yet he still looks like an aging used car salesman who won’t spring for a discount toupee.

The vastly more significant problem for the GOP, though, is that Trump, it seems to me, is at least as deficient in substance as he is in style.

I can’t imagine, at any rate, Reagan making the focal point of his fledgling campaign the ridiculous theory that Obama was born in Kenya and is precluded by the Constitution from serving as president.

Although at least the birther conspiracy is a “position” with legitimate conservative credentials.

On substantive matters of policy, though, Trump has at times sounded more like Harry Reid than Mitch McConnell.

He’s pro-choice (or at least he was pro-choice; he has recently claimed a conversion, no doubt a coincidence).

He has endorsed a national health care program.

He has even said nice things about Nancy Pelosi.

Many political pundits dismiss Trump’s recent publicity barrage as a stunt designed to promote his TV program.

Trump, they say, doesn’t really intend to seek the GOP nomination.

That’s plausible, to be sure.

But his “candidacy,” whether it’s credible or just a cynical farce, could sufficiently damage the Republican Party’s reputation with swing-voters so as to ensure Obama’s re-election.

In other words, Trump could do for Obama what Perot did for Clinton — without ever officially filing as a candidate.

This is, I’ll concede, a worst-case scenario for the GOP.

But even if Trump’s political ascendancy is as ephemeral as Gary Hart’s, whoever the Republicans pick next summer — Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin are the frontrunners — is certain to be beleaguered by lingering questions about (and possibly from) Trump.

Such irrelevancies could only serve to distract the Republican nominee from emphasizing to undecided voters the major differences between the GOP’s platform and the Democratic Party’s.

A key plank in the Republican platform — that raising taxes and expanding the influence of the federal government will not rouse America from an economic malaise — sounds familiar.

Just listen to a Reagan stump speech from 1980.

Trump, were he in the Gipper’s position back then, probably would have branded Jimmy Carter unfit for the job not because of his fiscal policies, but because Carter claimed he saw a UFO and once used a wooden boat paddle to shoo a confused, and possibly angry, rabbit.


Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.