Here again are significant precursors to the Trump furor. Had Schwarzenegger never held public office? Look at what the career politicians had done. (He had in fact chaired the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and was active in a variety of philanthropies.) Is he a political neophyte? He’s married to a Kennedy, for heaven’s sake. Did he speak with an accent and use catch-phrases from his movies? At least we know what he’s talking about, and he’s not using evasive, namby-pamby political talk. Had he harassed women in his past? Well, isn’t his wife standing by him? In essence, the recall tool had added a crucial element to the words made famous in Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network”: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore, and now I can actually do something about it!”
For those now supporting Trump—and they are a minority of a minority as of now—his nascent campaign seems to be acting as the Ventura campaign and the California recall did: providing a mechanism to turn a fever of disaffection into action. And from that sense of possibility, the chance to redefine what political plausibility means, comes an overt, enthusiastic rejection of the “norms” of politics. Does he flaunt his wealth? Then he doesn’t have to suck up to rich, powerful influence-buyers. Does he hurl insults left, right and center? Like the Minnesotan said about Jesse Ventura, “I don’t put up with a lot of stuff, and neither does he.” In fact, most of us have to put with a lot of stuff—from bosses, bureaucrats, family—which makes Trump an object of admiration, for his ability to tell pretty much everyone to go to hell). Does he blatantly contradict his past views? Hell, every politician lies, or tells us what the think we want to hear. He’s smart enough not to take all that stuff seriously. If all of his fellow candidates disowned him, if established conservative voices tried to read him out of the movement, as William Buckley did to the John Birch Society, it would only be proof that they are resistant to an honest outsider. If a modern day equivalent of Joseph Welch asked Trump, as Welch did of Joe McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency?” Trump would likely respond, “I don’t need any lectures from a stuffed shirt wrinkled old geezer!” And his backers would cheer him on.