"To Trump or Not to Trump?" is a description of a telephone conversation Bruni had with corporate Democrat Bob Kerrey, a Vietnam war criminal and discredited president of the New School. The goal of the column is to deride the presidential campaign of surging Donald Trump:
Bob Kerrey served in the Senate with John McCain, is also a Vietnam veteran and has run for president, so he has been asked incessantly over recent days to appear on television and weigh in on Donald Trump’s vile besmirching of McCain’s military record.
He accepted only one of those invitations, from a friend. Otherwise he mostly stayed mum, lest he abet Trump’s ultimate goal, which is to turn his name into a news media mantra: Trump, Trump, Trump.
But on the phone on Tuesday, Kerrey’s frustration — no, let’s call it disgust — boiled over, and he, too, talked about Trump, Trump, Trump. I recount our conversation because I think Kerrey speaks for most Americans and because his comments capture what a conundrum many of us face.
If we discuss Trump, as I’ve done in several columns, we reward his bad and transcendently self-serving behavior, no matter how negative our assessments of him or how many larger truths we engage.If we don’t discuss him, we ignore something real, in a fashion that’s irresponsible.
By something real, I mean the fact that Trump has measurable support, at least for now. In a nationwide ABC News/Washington Post poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents that was released Monday, he was in the lead for the party’s presidential nomination, the favorite of 24 percent of respondents. The next closest contenders were Scott Walker (13 percent) and Jeb Bush (12).Why not discuss the fact, reported in Bruni's own paper, that Bob Kerrey, as a former Navy SEAL in Vietnam, stands accused of mass murder and mutilation, including children and pregnant women, in the village of Thanh Phong? According to a display devoted to the incident at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City:
From 8PM to 9PM February 25th, 1969, a group of Seal Rangers [sic] (one of the most selective rangers of U.S. Army) led by Lieutenant Bob Kerry [sic] reached for Hamlet 5, Thanh Phong Village, Thanh Phu District, Ben Tre Province. They cut 66 year-old Bui Van Vat and 62 year-old Luu Thi Canh's necks and pulled their three grandchildren out from their hiding place in a drain and killed two, disembowelled one. Then, these rangers moved to dug-outs of other families, shot dead 15 civilians (including three pregnant women), disembowelled a girl. The only survivor was a 12-year-old girl named Bui Thi Luom who suffered a foot injury. It was not until April 2001 that U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey confessed his crime to the international public.Instead we get Kerrey delivered up as some sort of sage of what passes for permissible political discourse in the United States:
“This is not a national primary,” Kerrey said, noting that Trump’s 24 percent has dubious predictive power for a consequential handful of individual contests in early states that aren’t exactly mirrors of America. “So who the hell cares what his numbers are nationally?”
“He’s not going to do that well in Iowa,” Kerrey continued. “There’s nothing about Trump that indicates that the evangelical community there is going to embrace him. And does anyone seriously think he has the kind of ground organization in New Hampshire to turn people out to vote?”
“He’s got no ground game,” Kerrey continued. “It’s all up in Donald’s head! Everything’s in Donald’s head. It’s the political version of ‘Being John Malkovich.’ ”I'm sure Trump will do better in Iowa than Kerrey did in his home state of Nebraska. In 2012, he lost the election to the U.S. Senate to state senator Deb Fisher. Kerrey squeaked by in the two largest counties, but he lost all the rest except for three. I guess he didn't have a ground game either.
What we are witnessing now, and Bruni's column is an example, is the media's attempt to deflate or harness the Trump boom that it has helped create. Trotting out stale, past-the-sale-date corporate politicos like Bob Kerrey to take pot shots at The Donald is weak stuff:
But for all Trump’s antics and nonsense, he placed second to Bush in a New Hampshire poll late last month. In a more recent Iowa poll, he trailed only Walker.
Kerrey conceded: “I don’t think you can really ignore it. But you have to evaluate, with some expertise, what his odds of being the Republican nominee are. And they’re practically zero.”
“Yeah, 5,000 people showed up at your event,” he said. “I could get 5,000 people to show up at the bearded lady. He is, in his way, a freak show.”The obvious that goes unmentioned is that Trumps' popularity tracks back to a large segment of voters who have lost all trust in politicians like Bob Kerrey (who voted for the repeal of Glass-Steagal when he was in the U.S. Senate). People would sooner burn the whole motherfucking political charade to the ground than back a Bush or Clinton yet again.
People are angry. Trump is a vehicle for that anger. That is why his popularity spiked when he went after Mexican immigrants.
People want to hate. When a leader arrives on the scene and says, "Yes, it is okay to hate. Go grab your pitchforks and your torches." Of course people will take note. It worked for Hitler and Mussolini, and it worked for Ronald Reagan when he played up black welfare mooches.
The Fourth Estate is going to continue to hack away at Trump. But at this point The Donald's candidacy might have achieved critical mass and is beyond the control of the Fourth Estate. One thing is for sure: A cadaver like Bob Kerrey will not harm Trump at all.