The Movie Presidency Has Finally Come of Age


Matthew Dickinson finally made it to a Trump rally:

As I was leaving the event, a reporter for a local New Hampshire television station pulled me aside for an on-camera interview in which he asked me the secret of Trump’s appeal. Put on the spot, I answered, “I think this is part of his appeal, is he doesn’t say things — he doesn’t shy away from saying things that people might think but most politicians aren’t comfortable saying.”

Actually, I think this gets it exactly backward. Sure, Trump uses blunt language that most politicians don’t, but for the most part he’s not really saying anything new or different. Every Republican candidate wants to fight ISIS, close the borders, lower taxes, scrap the Iran deal, repeal Obamacare, etc. Policywise, Trump is a pretty typical modern Republican.1

The biggest part of his appeal, ironically, is what he doesn’t say: for all his endless talk, Trump never provides any detail. He never feels pinned down by reality. Other candidates feel obligated to explain their positions when they’re pushed, but Trump just shrugs and says not to worry; it’s all going to happen exactly like he says. Likewise, when he’s on stage he plows his way through a set-piece laundry list of all the stuff he wants to do, and the crowd goes wild. It’s pure affinity politics and the audience loves it. I doubt that most of them really think he can do all the stuff he promises, but it’s a satisfying dream, and they like the dream.

This is what people keep getting wrong about Trump. He’s not really channeling anger so much as he’s channeling dreams and aspirations. He’s selling a delightful movie version of the presidency—or maybe a one-man Broadway show version—and at least for the few minutes Trump has them in his spell, his fans love it.

1His only real heterodox stand is that he doesn’t want to touch Medicare or Social Security. His foreign policy is a little hard to get a handle on, but it’s basically pretty Cruz-esque: loud and blustery, but not really much committed to foreign interventions.