In the snark of his daily rhetoric, Donald Trump has borrowed a page from Francis Urquhart.
You remember Francis. He was the original F.U., the political schemer in the British “House of Cards” television series, which spawned the Americanized version two decades later with Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood.
Francis had a way of dealing with, or manipulating, the media, and he came to be known for a delicious bit of malicious doublespeak. So some reporter would ask him about one scandalous rumor or another. “You might very well think that,” he’d retort, a subtle bite of the affirming apple, “but I couldn’t possibly comment.”
I thought of Francis the other day during the antics of Trump’s Iowa campaign, when he pulled the petulant card and bowed out of the GOP’s debate on Thursday. Trump just couldn’t imagine standing on a stage and being questioned by the Fox News channel’s Megyn Kelly. She had had the gall to put him on the spot during the first Republican debate way back in August.
Politics is just so unfair, and the media even more so, Trump seemed to say in battling Fox News over Kelly. But as he does with absolutely everyone who has gotten in his way during this galling and exasperating presidential campaign, Trump reached for the snide personal attack. You know, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio are weak; Ted Cruz is Canadian and “a wreck”; and Iowans for Ben Carson are stupid.
In the case of Kelly, Trump returned to the locker-room aesthetic he employed before the TV cameras in August.
“I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo,” Trump said by tweet the other day, “because that would not be politically correct. Instead I will only call her a lightweight reporter!”
Oh, so she’s not a bimbo in Trump’s estimation? Just a lightweight? Sure, Donald, we get you. That’s classic F.U.-style deception in pure daylight.
This is the man who would be president. This is the showman who may very well be on the verge of winning the GOP caucuses in Iowa on Monday, the first in a surreal sequence of political dominoes that are poised to fall his way.
Now, of course, Trump’s supporters would view his obstinacy as a brilliant bit of gamesmanship, foreshadowing the kind of tough-guy image he’d cast around the globe.
Well, to each her own.
This is also the man who would be president:
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters, OK.”
That was Trump’s breathtaking ego on display last weekend. He was talking once again about his lead in all the polls. But, really, in these times is that the argument you want to make? I could shoot somebody. Or was he just showing off for the gun crowd? Or was he once again channeling Francis Urquhart, whose conniving tactics, as I recall, included at least one brush with murder?
Trump certainly knows how to push people’s buttons. And perhaps everything he says and does is absolutely calculated for effect — good vibes for his followers, bad vibes for the other folks, who are the losers and the weaklings. But perhaps, alternatively, Trump really is a loose cannon. Though perhaps, when this election cycle reaches overdrive — we’re not even close yet — the GOP, if not the rest of us, will have to learn to live with him.
This is also the man who would be president: “Without a photographic memory, you can’t speak without notes,” he bragged. “My memory is one of the greats.”
I love that one. A man with one of the most tremendous memories of all time. Unforgettable, alas. For all the wrong reasons.
But is he, like Francis Urquhart and Frank Underwood, unstoppable?
That’s the driving question of the 2016 campaign. Will Trump’s almost cultish support turn into actual votes? Republicans and Democrats alike might be calculating that momentum all the way to November.