When Donald Trump formally announced his intention to run for president, comedians everywhere fell to their knees in praise for the heaven-sent gift of a nonstop laugh track.
That was one year, one month and two days ago when no one seriously entertained the notion of Trump heading to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland as the presumptive nominee. But here he is, about to formally accept the GOP nomination.
He accomplished this by defying everything anyone thought they knew about big-time politics. At times it seemed he was running for president of his middle-school class instead of the most powerful office in the world.
He ran on a platform of insults, bullying and name-calling. He ignored fact-checkers. Bad manners didn’t stop him. Condemnation from some world leaders bounced off his hide like bb’s against a battleship. He could not be shamed.
Trump did it without a Super PAC and without the support of most mainline Republican leaders. He wouldn’t even release his income tax records, which raises questions whether he is as “really rich” as he claims to be.
The GOP establishment didn’t realize until it was too late that its disgust toward Trump helped propel him. Millions of his supporters don’t give a hoot about any of the traditional things that are supposed to be the bedrock for national campaigns.
This is a populist revolution, and its champion is a twice-divorced, often-sued tycoon with four bankruptcies.
Many Republican members of Congress will skip the festivities in Cleveland, but his supporters won’t care.
Several large corporations have either backed out completely or greatly reduced their commitment to the convention, now that Trump will be the nominee. It forced organizers to plead with billionaire conservative Sheldon Adelson for a $6 million check to cover Cleveland’s expected shortfall for expenses.
These conventions are supposed to be heavily scripted celebratory rollouts with an eye toward the White House. Instead, the stage is set for the formal collapse of the Republican Party as we know it.
Perhaps we are even seeing a movement that will lead to the creation of a viable third party going forward. If Trump loses in November, it’s hard to see his most fervent supporters willingly returning to a party they no longer believe cares about them.
The reverse is true if Trump wins, though. Those who have been the mainstay of the GOP now look with dismay at what has been wrought by the barbarians at the gate. It’s unsure how many would want to be part of that going forward.
In an op-ed in The Washington Post, former Florida Governor and failed presidential candidate Jeb Bush wrote, “Call it a tipping point, a time of choosing or testing. Whatever you call it, it is clear that this election will have far-reaching consequences for both the Republican Party and our exceptional country.
“While he has no doubt tapped into the anxiety so prevalent in the United States today, I do not believe Donald Trump reflects the principles or inclusive legacy of the Republican Party. And I sincerely hope he doesn’t represent its future.”
Trump represents the immediate future; that much is sure. Whether enough Americans buy into his malarkey to make him president is uncertain, but win or lose Trump gave voice to those who see politics as benefiting everyone but them.
Whatever happens with Trump in charge, they figure, would have to be an improvement.
Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He has covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also hard news. The two intertwined in the decadelong search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons — Ben and Patrick.