After all the insults and bile, can Donald Trump become a ‘unifier’?

March 3, 2016
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump makes a face at his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa February 1, 2016.     REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Donald Trump at his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

One of the great speeches of Hollywood cinema is delivered by Marlon Brando, playing Terry Malloy, a longshoreman who dreams of being a prize fighter, in On the Waterfront (1954). His brother, Charlie (Rod Steiger), lieutenant to a powerful mobster, has ruined Terry’s promising boxing career — instructing him to throw a crucial bout so the mob could bet on his opponent. It proved to be the end of Terry’s hopes. Near tears, Terry confronts his brother: “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”

It’s a speech Donald Trump will not have to utter. Those who are nominally his mob — that apparently powerless entity called the Republican establishment — tried to get him to throw the bout. He hasn’t. And it now seems too late to get him out of the ring. Super Tuesday’s results, in which Trump won seven of 11 states, mean he is a contender. Certainly no bum. Class, though, is more debatable.

Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump stands prior to the start of the Iowa caucuses at St Francis of Assisi church in West Des Moines, Iowa February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Donald Trump at the start of the Iowa caucuses at St Francis of Assisi Church in West Des Moines, Iowa, February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Trump achieved this through bile, prejudice, insults and money. That was Act I. Act II has followed hard on its heels: No interval. It opened with his news conference in Palm Beach, Florida, as the Super Tuesday results rolled in. Like Benedick in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing, who has railed to all who would listen against the entanglements of desire for women, he’s suddenly ready for love of Beatrice.

Trump is ready now for love of all. He’s a reacher-out, a generous foe, a unifier. He’s not a bum at all: How could we have thought so?

If a substantial number of Americans view this with trepidation, it cannot match the horror of Europeans. I can think of no major news organization that expresses anything but fear of a Trump presidency. If Democrat Hillary Clinton falters, or the blitz against her that Trump has promised works (she’s the one great heretic in his unification church), Europeans and others, who still depend on the United States for stability, protection and a basic shared morality in world affairs, will likely be even more fearful than they are already.

The view has been much rehearsed in the primary season that Trump’s mastery of reality TV, his showmanship, his “You’re fired!” ease of dealing with any and all problems have endeared him to millions determined to see politicians as a lost, even a malign cause. The entertainment-ization of politics has proved overwhelming and pulled the most serious of politicians onto the vaudeville stage.

Look, for an illustration, at a “roast” of Trump, broadcast by Comedy Central in 2011. It was a dinner devoted to comic insults — harsh, libelous and hilarious — of Trump. The comedian and actor Seth McFarlane issued a stream of putdowns of Trump’s monstrous ego — the funniest claimed that, even when having sex with a beautiful woman, Trump was fantasizing about himself. Trump had volunteered for the roasting and, sitting a few feet from MacFarlane, maintained a look of amusement.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures at a campaign rally at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia February 29, 2016. REUTERS/ Philip Sears

Donald Trump at a campaign rally at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia, February 29, 2016. REUTERS/ Philip Sears

In his 1987 autobiography The Art of the Deal  — now a necessary read — Trump wrote, “Good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.”

One reason Trump accepted to be roasted was that he was considering running for president in 2012. He didn’t. But that was just a postponement.

In March 2014, President Barack Obama, perhaps following the same thinking, appeared on the popular web program Between Two Ferns. Host Zach Galifianakis conducted a mocking interview. He asked Obama, for example, how he would feel when he left the presidency and people wouldn’t let him win at basketball any more. Galifianakis made an elaborate display of boredom when the president spoke about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. (“Is this what they mean by drones?”) Both Fox News on the right and Stephen Colbert on the left accused Obama of demeaning the presidency. Meanwhile, the program has gotten (to date) 13.5 million views on YouTube. This is what matters to the White House communications people.

Trump knew — and the White House learned — that ritual, high-profile disrespect can work to the advantage of the disrespected. It shows they can take a joke, and so are rounded people. In a way, it’s a tribute to their status. It makes them look cool, especially to the young.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump kisses his wife Melania as he speaks at a campaign rally on caucus day in Waterloo, Iowa February 1, 2016.   REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Donald Trump kisses his wife Melania as he speaks at a campaign rally on caucus day in Waterloo, Iowa, February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Norman Mailer, in his 1963 book The Presidential Papers, wrote, “Politics is arithmetic, but politics is also rhetoric, passion and an occasional idea to fire the imagination of millions.” He expressed despair that then-President John F. Kennedy (not the least charismatic of the occupiers of the Oval Office, one would think), was too wedded to arithmetic. Mailer was probably not thinking about someone like Trump. (He would be thinking, as ever, more about himself.) But Trump is the one who fits his bill.

Trump has expressed passion — or at least convincingly acted passionately — about a number of ideas: deporting what he calls criminal, rape-inclined Mexicans; temporarily barring Muslims from entering the United States; repealing Obamacare and bringing in ”something much better.”

In The Art of the Deal, he writes, “I play to peoples’ fantasies … a very effective form of promotion.”

This is why he appeals to people. He is where he is because people vote for him — sometimes tongue in cheek, but often because it seems that his aggression, desire to be “the best” and wealth will be at their service. Trump isn’t a politician, has no experience in elected office and enjoys the support of President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Yay! He’s not one of them.

As one Trump supporter, Ken Magno of Everett, Massachusetts, said: “This isn’t about whether he’s going to do a better job or not. More or less, it’s the statement: Listen, we’re sick and tired of what you people do. And we’re going to put somebody in there — now that it’s our choice, we’re going to put somebody in there that basically you don’t like.”

A sizable part of America, many millions strong, is putting the finger up to the political class — right and left. They are responding to what Mailer thought he was calling for — passion, rhetoric, new ideas, “firing the imagination of millions.”

Having done all that, the nomination is Trump’s to lose. It’s more and more likely that he’ll be in a face-off with a woman who can do the arithmetic but finds showmanship far harder.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Yeah, he’s going to get a lot done. Haha. The Republican Speaker of the House just called him a Klan toadie.

Real bridge-builder, that Trump. Good luck, guys.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

“How stupid are the people of Iowa?!?” -Donald Trump, 2016

Yeah, well there goes a few more Congressmen and Senators willing to do favors. Keep talking, Trump. Keep talking.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

… on the other side the Benghazi blood clot survivor will definitely push the country into direct confrontation with Russia.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

trump won’t even come close to getting the chance to ‘become a unifier’.

Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive

Although Clinton is said to have since given his backing to the current U.S. President, his remark is the latest in a series of apparent outbursts against Obama.
The ill-advised comment follows claims of another remark attributed to Clinton in 2010, where he is said to have commented: ‘A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.’
Source: Daily Mail

Posted by americangrizzly | Report as abusive

Does Hillary Clinton wash Bill’s sheets? Bill made many more racial comments.

Posted by americangrizzly | Report as abusive

Hillary obviously can lie better? So if you believe in a Liar for a Chief Executive, the democrats should pick Kenneth Lay of Enron for Vice President.

Posted by americangrizzly | Report as abusive


Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive

Amateurs talk Strategy, professionals talk Logistics.

DT is pulling about 40% of the GOP, and the GOP is currently about 23% of registered voters. So, he is working with something under 10% of voters. It’s enough for short term tactical success, goes nowhere in the long run. He has around $300M in personal cash, total, including what he needs for his hair dresser. He has no outside donor base.

Even if he spends every dime he has, HC can outspend him 4:1. And, right now, raw numbers, she is already pulling about 15% of voters.

Posted by DavidHume | Report as abusive

“Stephen Colbert on the left” Someone should explain satire to the author

Posted by brownland | Report as abusive