Does Donald Trump need a new schtick?
For those cool lingo challenged, “schtick” is a "gimmick" that has come to mean "someone's signature behavior." It’s not going out on a limb to suggest that Donald Trump is unique, one of a kind, an American politician so singular in construction and constitution that there’s never been anyone like him in the annals of history, nor will there ever be another national leader quite akin to the brash New York outsider who never fails to speak his mind.
Fans of Trump -- of which I am one (after taking a few months in the beginning to get used to him) -- fondly recall his ride down the Trump Tower escalator with beautiful wife Melania nearly seven years ago (two days after his 69th birthday on June 16, 2015) to the tune of Neil Young’s “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” blaring in the background. It was a spectacle befitting a man who had perhaps been in the public spotlight more than anyone else in the country, for Trump had been a cultural curiosity since at least the early 1980’s.
Trump had previously mentioned (threatened?), a number of times, that he might run for president. He had not tipped his hand as to which party he would use as a platform, but having wavered back and forth between the Republicans and Democrats at different times, he selected the former. Trump had liked Ronald Reagan, but was also seemingly close friends with the political opportunist Clinton clan as well. He was for certain things and against certain things. There wasn’t a discernible ideological nature to Trump. Or so it seemed.
If anything, Trump was consistently for his brand and celebrity. That much everyone knew from the outset. But he was also an unflinching cheerleader for the greatness of America, the country that had provided the backdrop for him to become, well, Donald Trump. I recall going to one of his golf courses in the early years of this century and marveling at the enormous American flag flying over the clubhouse. “This man really likes America” I thought at the time.
Politicians come and go and some stay around in the capital for their entire working lives (like Senile Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell and “Chucky” Schumer and… (insert Washington swamp creature here), but not even the most notorious of politicos is in the papers every day for decades, like Trump always was. No, that type of fixation is saved for men like “The Donald”. For whatever reason, people wanted to know about Trump’s life, be it his “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” daily routine or his power business deals, his scandals (he’d been married three times and has maintained a preference for young and beautiful women), his controversies and yes, his bombast.
One of the things folks found most refreshing about Trump’s political side was he never tried to fit the standard politician model. He wore his hair in a different manner; he largely self-financed his own political operation, and instead of campaigning the traditional way -- embarking on a bus tour of Iowa and/or stopping at diner after diner in New Hampshire to engage in “retail politics” -- Trump instead planned mass rallies with tens of thousands of people in attendance.
Critics said his innovative strategy wouldn’t work, mostly because it had never been done before. “Iowans and New Hampshirites need to meet the candidates and get to know them on a personal level” was the media refrain. Even the saintly Barack Obama had done things the old-fashioned way, following a script written long ago and passed down from political generation to generation, barely deviating from candidate to candidate or between the parties.
Trump also disdained the written speech as flashed onto a teleprompter. At least at the start, Trump didn’t even appear to have a prepared text, instead taking the microphone and speaking ad lib for up to two hours with his “fans” shouting their approval and never seeming to get tired of it. Always the question for the stuffy establishment bluebloods and the semi-shocked ruling class media: Would it work?
At any rate, Trump has employed the same or similar style ever since that time, always with himself and the Make America Great Again agenda as the main attraction at his events, using his uncanny ability to make political issues interesting to the masses and never giving an inch on what he wanted to do or say. He’s still regarded as the un-politician in the same way 7Up is thought of as the UnCola.
But there are also those who claim Trump is getting, for a lack of a better word to describe it, “boring”. Longtime Republican establishment writer Rich Lowry wrote at Politico:
“The candidate who brought relatively neglected issues that mattered to the average voter into the center of the political discussion in 2016, from immigration and trade to opioids, is now largely telling voters about the slights and ill treatment that matter to him in 2022.
“All that said, there’s no doubt that rally attendees still enthusiastically enjoy Trump’s lines. And the party’s identification with him may still be so strong that seeking retribution for all the wrongs that were done or allegedly done to him — most especially his loss in 2020 — will be a profound motivator for primary voters in 2024, should Trump go again.
“There’s also no beating something with nothing. If Trump’s rallies are stale, what hot new event in Republican politics is going to supplant them? The fact is that Trump at his most dull still may be more interesting than a conventional Republican at his or her most entertaining.”
Hear, hear! Lowry’s last observation is definitely still true. There’s been a lot of talk lately about how Trump was “beaten” by his former vice president, Mike Pence, in the Georgia gubernatorial primary (where Pence endorsed and campaigned for the 72 percent of the vote winner, incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp, verses Trump’s chosen challenger, former senator David Perdue), but ask yourself this question: If given the choice to attend a rally with either Trump or Mike Pence, which would you opt for?
The logic extends far beyond Trump and Pence, too. Is there another active politician in either party who “entertains” as much as Trump does? The fact that he mixes a solid helping of substance into every public appearance is impressive, even if the content doesn’t feel as “fresh” as it did in 2015-16. The fact is, there’s a lot more to talk about now than there was even back then, and Trump is clearly motivated by repetitively relating the multitude of injustices he endured.
The only other recent politician in Trump’s league might be Barack Obama, though the Hawaiian pot smoking “Choom Gang” leader’s appeal didn’t really go beyond basic surface characteristics as far as Democrats were concerned. Liberals believed this well-spoken man with half African heritage would transcend the boundaries created by the political establishment, you know, men like Joe Biden. Simply because The Big O would be the first minority president, Democrats reasoned, every cultural division would magically melt away.
Obama’s mystique wore down over the years as Americans grew tired of being lectured about how awful their country is with its systemic prejudices and discrimination. Who wants to endure the negativity time and again?
Needless to say, Joe Biden inspires no one with his speeches. Biden’s past appeal was his everyman-type manner of delivery, but as president, the old dolt usually starts out with a few self-deprecating remarks and then flies off the handle with anger and recriminations against Republicans. Senile Joe’s anti-gun rights speech last week was a typical performance for him.
As usual, Biden displayed his remarkable ability to get ticked off over constitutional safeguards and supposedly saving lives, but how to explain his utter hypocrisy when it comes to the beating hearts of unborn children? Aren’t those aborted babies human lives too? What if the eventual victims of mass murderers had never been born because their mothers “chose” abortion? Would senile Joe mourn them in that case, too?
Needless to say, Kamala Harris is one of the worst speakers to have ever attained high office. During the vetting process, didn’t Democrat party higher-ups bother watching any of her past speeches? Shameful.
At any rate, Lowry is correct, the Trump “show” isn’t as stimulating as it once was, but that doesn’t mean the man is irrelevant now. Trump’s ability to draw massive and enthusiastic crowds is still unmatched and his rallies, though maybe not quite as enthralling as they used to be, are still fun and upbeat. And participatory, for the most part.
If you doubt it, watch how the passion level dips whenever Trump invites one of his guests to speak at his rallies. The MAGA-draped attendees seemingly lose interest when the poor soul replaces Trump at the microphone, even if it’s just for a few minutes. It’s not necessarily being rude… it’s human nature.
So, does Trump need a new “schtick”? I wouldn’t say so. There’s only one Donald Trump and his basic formula still brings results. His appearances will no doubt regain a lot of their “buzz” quality as this year’s midterm elections approach and Republican partisans are united behind the party’s hopefuls. Everyone will focus on defeating senile Joe and his congressional candidates. And all will be right again in Trumpworld.
A man like Donald Trump won’t be held down for long. If it can be said that his rallies have become “repetitive” and “boring,” there’s always room for innovation. Never underestimate Trump’s power of persuasion.
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