This explanation makes a lot of sense, not just about Donald Trump’s remarks about Carly Fiorina but about his campaign strategy in general. One can sum it up with this scene, in which Russell Crowe’s gladiator Maximus tosses his sword at the Establishment after slaughtering his competition, and then demands that the crowd acknowledge his service to them:
Trump tells Greta van Susteren that people have to understand that some of his remarks are meant as entertainment rather than the statements of a serious candidate. Van Susteren doesn’t buy the other part of his explanation, that a crack about Fiorina’s face is about her “persona,” and notes that it’s not the first time he’s publicly insulted women in personal terms:
Donald Trump says that his controversial comments about Carly Fiorina and other women were made “as an entertainer.”
“It all goes hand-in-hand. And much of the — many of the statements — and, if you notice, I’m leading with women. This is nothing new because a colleague of yours mentioned something during the last debate. So this is nothing new. And yet I’m leading with women,” Trump told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren Thursday night after she repeatedly questioned him about why he was commenting on Fiorina’s physical appearance.
Trump continued: “Many of those comments are made as an entertainer, because I did ‘The Apprentice.’ It was one of the top shows on television. I decided not to do it again because I wanted to run for president. But some comments are made as an entertainer. And, as everybody said, as an entertainer [it] is a much different ballgame.”
That’s a mighty convenient distinction to draw after entering a political race. As an entertainer, this still fails; Trump’s comments about Fiorina’s face (or “persona”) were juvenile and barely coherent, let alone unfunny. Of course, comedy is a matter of personal taste, and Trump does have a good track record on reality television. Jim Geraghty wonders whether Trump is running for the wrong position:
If Trump wants to be judged as an entertainer… maybe he should run for the job of entertainer, not President of the United States.
Oh, I don’t know. This seems to be the culmination of American political culture over the last 15-20 years, in which clown noses come on and off at whim. This succeeds marvelously in current-affairs-cum-comedy-shows like The Daily Show and Real Time with Bill Maher, and encouraged by mainstream media and Beltway culture in the White House Correspondents Dinner, regular drop-ins on lightweight late-night talk shows, doing the Nae Nae on Ellen, and so on. If Jon Stewart can capture the hearts of the nation with a clown-nose-on/-off strategy, it wasn’t going to be long before we started seeing candidates trying it — and Trump is actually the ideal person for that role, when you think about it. At least for now, Trump’s giving the crowds exactly what they want … politics as gladiatorial combat, tossing swords at leadership while attacking everyone else around him. He fights! Are you not entertained?
Today of all days, we should remember that we need to take the presidency seriously, rather than for its entertainment value. Here’s the entire interview with van Susteren. See if you can parse out when Trump is a candidate, and when he’s an entertainer. That may be something that even Trump can only do in retrospect.