As the GOP nomination process pushes along, frontrunner Donald Trump has failed to fall the way that most pundits predicted for months. Now that more people are taking him seriously, it’s time to examine why he is leading despite having the strongest pack of candidates the Republican party has seen in decades.
It wasn’t very long ago that I was a Trump supporter. I fell hard for his blatant honesty, his willingness to say the things others wouldn’t, and the “it-factor” that I hadn’t seen in other candidates. As the debates progressed and I started researching other candidates, I realized that there were several good options and one great one. I also started realizing that the things I thought I liked about Trump were only on the surface.
After the last debate, I realized that he’s a combination of PT Barnum and the PT Cruiser. I know it’s strange that the showman and the car happen to start with the same two letters, but it would fit perfectly even if their names didn’t. He exemplifies the best and worst of both PTs.
Trump as PT Barnum
This takes very little imagination or problem solving to determine how Trump is like the the circus master. Trump isn’t quite the showman that PT Barnum was and Barnum wasn’t quite as adept at business, but both combine the two divergent traits and make them sing harmoniously.
For both, it has always been a matter of brand and delivery. You need to brand to get the attention and you need to deliver on the goods to keep the people coming back for more. That’s why Trump has been successful. He’s loud and he delivers.
Except… he hasn’t always. As a supporter I saw him as a man with a plan that couldn’t fail. As a more discerning American citizen that wants my vote to go to the best person for the job of President of the United States, I quickly learned that there are many failures that are strangely reminiscent of what he’s trying to accomplish today. In the case of the airline, football, mortgage, vodka, and other industries, Trump came in with a “believe me” attitude, convinced a bunch of people that his lack of experience would be made up by his winning ways and business smarts, and took good ventures quickly down the tubes because he bit off more than he could chew. That’s what worries me about Trump the President. He talks a great game – always the showman – but if he abandoned all of those other ventures in less time than a single Presidential term, what would he do with the much more difficult job of Commander-in-Chief.
The real difference between Barnum and Trump is that Barnum’s failures were less catastrophic, but in both cases they failed when they stepped outside their element of business and entertainment.
Trump the PT Cruiser
This is a much tougher comparison to see instantly, but knowing the history of the car itself brings it all into perspective. When the PT Cruiser was launched, it was the hottest car that had been released in years. People were paying over MSRP for them and dealers were forming waiting lists. It was different. It wasn’t like any vehicle they’d seen – not quite a throwback but not overly modern, either.
It was the easiest car to sell. Celebrities who could afford any vehicle they wanted were paying extra for the little Chrysler. As they drove down the road, they would get more attention than a Ferrari.
The newness faded. Drivers started realizing it wasn’t a very good car. It was launched as a four-cylinder with the chassis and powertrain of a Dodge Neon. It had no storage. It wasn’t very comfortable. It couldn’t get up on the highway. It broke down easily.
Despite all the hype, it turned out to be a dud, but nobody really knew this before it was parked in millions of driveways. They could have known if they dug a little deeper into the car rather than falling victim to the novelty.
The same is true for Trump. He’s fresh. He’s different. He has the right attributes on the surface. Dig a little deeper and we quickly realize that his economic plan is running on four-cylinders, his foreign policy is so uncomfortable that nobody wants to get on board, and he doesn’t know enough about the United States government, let alone the Constitution, to be expected to get his Presidency up to speed on the political highway.
Despite all the hype, he’ll turn out to be a dud if enough people jump on his bandwagon without realizing the lack of substance to his plans.