Donald Trump for president: How will his 2012 campaign explain his 2000 campaign?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
April 15 2011 5:44 PM

Enter the Donald, Take Two

How will the Trump 2012 presidential campaign explain the Trump 2000 presidential campaign?

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That was more or less the vintage 2000 Trump position on taxes, sold with a unique combination of angst and bravado. "When was the last time you heard a major politician warning of economic downturn?" he wrote. "It's just not in the vocabulary of any public figure. Except mine."

In The America We Deserve, Trump proposed a one-time 14.25 percent tax on individuals and trusts "with a net worth of over $10 million." He predicted that it would raise $5.7 trillion, "which we would use to pay off the national debt" and pay for Social Security. (The first part of this seems quaint now.)

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"By imposing a one-time 14.25 percent net-worth tax on the richest individuals and trusts," he explained, "we can put America on sound financial footing for the next century." Like basically every other Trump idea, this one came with a story of epiphany and self-sacrifice. "The plan would cost me $700 million personally in the short term, but it would be worth it."

This is what a swath of people were angry about or panicked about in 1999. They were worried about campaign finance reform, so Trump sided with them. "If I were drawing a political cartoon to represent the situation," he wrote, while not actually drawing the cartoon, "it would include a very large guy with a huge bag of money. On that bag would be written one word: soft. Soft money is the bane of the current system and we need to get rid of it."

How far can this schtick take you? In 2000, not very far. That was when a lonely nation cried out for blandness, and demanded candidates with smart ideas of how to spend budget surpluses. There was none of the anger and immediacy that there was in 1992 or 2010. And Trump's success, such as it is, is coming because he will say anything that fed-up people are thinking.

Here's an example that's more recent than his book. In 2008, after George W. Bush's party lost, Trump made a critique of the Iraq war predicated on the idea that Bush was a lousy president. * "He'd go into a country," said Trump, "attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with the World Trade Center, and just do it because he wanted to do it." When he said that, that's what people thought about Bush and Iraq.

Smash-cut to this month, when Trump sat down with the Wall Street Journal for one of many interviews with baffled reporters. He went at Iraq from another direction. "I always heard that when we went into Iraq," he said, "we went in for the oil. I said, 'Eh, that sounds smart.' "

Different rationales, different solutions different times—the only thing connecting them is the degree of anger out there in that 18 percent or so of the country that hates and mistrusts both parties, and for the moment is still with the GOP. They like successful businessmen, or they at least like people who can sell themselves that way. They hate anything that sounds like political double-talk. They think Obama is wrecking the country. They can be sold snake oil, as long as the person selling it is brimming with confidence about the recipe. Enter, once again, Donald Trump.

Clarification, April 15, 2011: This paragraph originally cited the prevalence of Trump articles on the Huffington Post. Their prevalence on the Drudge Report is a more apt example. (Return to the revised sentence.)

Correction, April 18, 2011: This article originally referred to 2008 as the year "George W. Bush lost"; it was the year Bush's party lost, with John McCain leading the ticket. (Return to the corrected sentence.)