Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman

Donald Trump has jumped the barrier at the same time he has jumped the shark. He has gleefully embraced not just birtherism, but raised questions about Barack Obama’s education and whether or not Obama wrote his second book. The consequence? Trump is surging in Republican polls.

Donald Trump birther

Daryl Cagle / (click for more Trump cartoons)

He’s surging as Obama is seemingly tanking. Both the Gallup Poll and a new Washington Post/ABC News poll find Obama’s approval ratings match the lowest of his presidency while an ABC News poll finds Trump within 12 points of Obama.

It’s a perfect opening for a “new Perot,’’ or a plain speaking, tough talking Republican.. Trump may have jumped the shark for some voters with his birtherism but with poll numbers like he’s getting he could be a “serious” candidate IF he wants to be.

My grandmother had an old expression: “If I had wheels I’d be a trolley car.”

To many talking heads and new and old media pundits, the symbolism here is that Trump is a potential a 21st century Perot. But he also symbolizes a political shift.

In the 1960s, evening newspapers started dying due to popular network evening newscasts. By 1988, newspapers scrambled to complete when the National Enquirer beat them on the Gary Hart extramarital affair scandal. By the early 20th century, TV news passed from being a dignified information stewardship to a cash-cow entertainment component. Fox News’ ratings, the Internet, and talk radio boosted opinion-based news and helped coarsen political discourse’s tone and content.

The driving force behind these shifts was “Give ‘em what they want” to see, read or hear. Enter Trump.

If Sarah Palin is a talk show personality grafted onto a politician popular due to her sound bite snark, the abrasive, tough-talking Trump is a realty show character who generates attention by creating, pulling in and keeping an audience by giving them what they want to hear – even if it’s baloney.

Trump’s most revealing comment came to Talking Points Memo in responding to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s suggestion that Trump drop the birther issue: “”I think it’s a very bad thing for Cantor to have done because I’ll tell you, people love this issue especially in the Republican Party. And there’s something to what we’re saying.”

Meanwhile, a combination of Republican establishment types and tea party bigwigs are dissing him. Criticism and strong doubts have been voiced by GOP political maven Karl Rove, conservative talk show host Mark Levin, some Tea Party officials, and conservative commentators such as George Will and Charles Krauthammer. But the AP reports that Trump is greatly exciting GOP activists and insiders due to his flamboyance and willingness to hit Obama hard.

They are discreetly looking the other way. Conservatives thought Mitt Romney flipped flopped? Trump’s past comments suggest he is flip flopping on ideology and party support.

Trump’s birther focus is a pity because for some voters there will always be as Rove suggests a sense of what might have been. Many voters desperately crave a thoughtful non-Obama and a non-any-of-those-now-running-for-the-GOP-nomination. Trump’s decision to occupy and dominate a padded room in the birther political mental institution disqualifies him in the eyes of some potential voters – a truth even Trump cannot comb-over.

Still, if Trump shifts quickly into talking about serious, substantive issues he could widen his support and positively influence the content of our political debate.

And if I had wheels I’d be a trolley car.


Copyright 2011 Joe Gandelman

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at [email protected] and can be booked to speak at your event

Follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter @joegandelman.