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The staying power of Donald J. Trump

Jack Lessenberry

Several of the many Republican candidates for President have been in Michigan lately, including Marco Rubio and John Kasich. They drew small but polite crowds.

True, their visits are as much about fundraising as winning votes at this point, but all indications are that the vast majority of the population would have great difficulty recognizing them or articulating where they stand on any issue.

And increasingly, when these so-called “mainstream” candidates are asked a question, it turns out to be something like, “What do you think of Donald Trump?”

Nearly every morning, I turn on CNN and see some longtime Republican analyst talk about who will be nominated once Trump self-destructs. But earlier this week, I finally saw a reporter interrupt and say the polite, professional equivalent of “What have you been smoking?”

It is now beginning to dawn on people that the Trump phenomenon is real, and seems to be getting bigger instead of fading. A while ago, it dawned on me that Michigan has someone for years whose public personality is much like Trump’s.

That would be Geoffrey Fieger, the flamboyant lawyer who once ran for governor himself. Fieger is politically Trump’s polar opposite, but his twin in terms of style.

I asked Fieger how he accounts for Trump’s appeal. He said, “That’s easy. The average guy looks at him and says, 'He’s got $4 billion dollars, so he has to know what he’s talking about. He’s (angry) and so am I'.” Fieger, of course, used somewhat stronger language.

Actually, I have been expecting someone like Trump on the national stage for a long time. I went to elementary school with a kid I’ll call Dennis, who wasn’t much at academics but was superb at beating me up. Dennis got a job on the assembly line, and through our 20s, made far more than I did.

Then came the auto industry crisis, and Dennis’s good-paying job was gone. He had no skills beyond strapping on fenders. He lost his cottage and his boat and when I ran into him one summer was running around doing several menial jobs including delivering pizzas.

He had no real idea what had happened, and I doubt would have appreciated a lecture on globalization. But some of his buddies might find it far easier to blame foreigners.

Once, they blamed blacks and Japanese. Now, the fashion is to blame Muslims and terrorists. Our long and noble history as an asylum for refugees is very inspiring.

That is, until we feel threatened. My nightmare scenario always has been that some group would simultaneously send guys with assault rifles into shopping malls in places like Bay City, Muskegon and Monroe. With our nerves jangled from the constant stress poured out over the 24 hour news channels, I really fear that would be the end of democracy in America.

I’ve been talking to Democrats gleeful at the thought of Trump as the nominee, certain this brawling buffoon would go down in a landslide.

However, I remember when people now old enough to be their parents were thrilled when the GOP nominated an old B-movie actor with “wacky right wing views” of his own. Ronald Reagan won 44 states that November.

I’m beginning to think this could be a very interesting year.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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