Donald Trump is surging toward the top in nationwide polls for the Republican nomination for President in 2016! Wait a minute, read that sentence again out loud and try to stop from laughing. Now it’s true that we are in the silly season for electioneering. The real work lies ahead and anyone can throw their hat in the ring at this time. In past years, we have had a few satirical candidates that livened things up, even occasionally garnering quite a lot of support. Perhaps this is just another of these oddball cases. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this one might even have a real impact, and that possibility is driving the Republican establishment crazy. Indeed, that fact alone may explain The Donald’s strange attraction.
To put this in context, I thought I might review some previous instances of wacko candidates. I am not making any of this up.
In 1928, comedian Will Rogers was induced to run by the editor of a humor magazine. He created the Anti-Bunk Party, with the keystone plank, “Whatever the other fellow don’t do, we will.” He received endorsements from Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth, and Henry Ford, and went on to receive a substantial write-in vote.
In 1948, delegations from some southern states took affront at the pro-civil rights planks at the Democratic National Convention, gathered up their cloaks and hoods and walked out. They formed the State’s Rights Democratic Party and nominated Strom Thurmond. His racist announcements were so extreme that even supporters tried to explain that they had to be understood in the context of Southern society. Apparently they didn’t get what that implied about them and their way of life. Good ol’ Strom got quite a few votes for President. I still hear faint echoes of that candidacy in the response by some in the South to the controversy over their revered Confederate Battle Flag.
In 1952, a popular comic strip character called Pogo was apparently inspired by the “I Like Ike” campaign of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Through his creator, Walt Kelly, that lovable possum from the Okefenokee Swamp started his own campaign, with the slogan “I Go Pogo”. Think this was just a comic page joke? There were riotous campaign rallies on college campuses around the nation; NBC promised full coverage; and in the event Pogo received quite a few votes, more in fact than two real candidates from the Vegetarian and Nudist parties.
In every election since 1964, Nobody has run for President of the United States. The creation of journalist Arthur Hoppe, this “place holder” candidate has a serious side in proposals to include “None of the above” on the ballot. But as an actual candidate, Nobody has some compelling campaign slogans. “Vote for Nobody because Nobody is the best candidate.” “Nobody listens to your concerns.” “Nobody tells the truth.”
In 1968, comedian Pat Paulsen of Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour fame made a semi-serious run for President with the campaign slogan “We cannot stand pat.” His declaration that “issues have no place in a presidential campaign” could well fit the campaigns of some candidates running today. Paulsen siphoned off so many Democratic votes that he is credited by some with helping Nixon beat Humphrey. Apparently Democrats have a refined sense of the ridiculous in our political process. Paulsen ran 5 more times and in 1996 he finished second to Bill Clinton in the New Hampshire primary. Keep that in mind when you read the results in New Hampshire next year.
In 1976, Lyndon LaRouche ran the first of his eight times for President, starting as the U.S. Labor Party candidate and later running for the Democratic nomination. His platform seemed to be wholly based on a conspiracy theory about a mysterious Jewish/British cabal that is fomenting trouble everywhere in the world. If he were in the running today, I am sure that he would include 9/11 into that somehow. I despair sometimes when I read the hogwash that so many of my fellow Americans seem to believe. Maybe Gen. Jack D. Ripper had it right about fluoridation after all. Something must be “sapping and impurifying all of our precious bodily fluids”, making us all a little bit nuts.
In 1992, the Natural Law Party was founded, with Dr. John Hagelin as their nominee. His basic idea is that Transcendental Meditation will solve all of our problems. Now who can not listen carefully to a real doctor? They are smart, aren’t they? The problem, as he sees it, is that we just haven’t gotten enough people to sit down quietly and think good thoughts at the same time. I think the critical mass is supposed to be the square root of 1% of the U.S. population. I guess we won’t know whether this works or not until we try. It doesn’t seem any crazier than some of The Donald’s ideas.
In 2008, Cynthia McKinney won the nomination of Green Party, a small but not noticeably loony group. Mostly Ms. McKinney, who actually was a member of Congress, seemed to specialize in conspiracy theories, the weirdest being the infamous execution by our government of 5,000 men whose bodies were dumped in a Louisiana swamp. Since they were never found, who is to say she wasn’t right? That’s the great thing about many conspiracy theories. They are either unprovable or evidence to the contrary can just be denied as a part of the conspiracy.
I could go on with dozens more, but I think you can catch my drift. Running for President is not always a serious endeavor. Donald Trump is not certifiable and he is as qualified as any random CEO to be our next President, which is to say not very much. Basically he is just an opinionated boor and if the Republican Party has any sense or dignity it should tell him, “You’re fired!”