Mad as hell demogoguery won't win Trump GOP nomination

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Nearly 40 years ago, a fictional television anchor called Howard Beale captured a public mood of despair by telling his viewers to go to the nearest window, throw it open and shout: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

The movie, "Network," won four Academy Awards, including for best picture and best actor, to Peter Finch. He played the mad anchorman who aroused an audience of millions to disavow a television industry that flourished on lies, deceptions and general hokum.


Today, the plot line is somewhat different but the spectacle is the same in the hands of the real-life Donald Trump. He has hijacked not only the television airwaves but the news media in general and, for a time at least, the American political process in his outrageous bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Capitalizing on his celebrity and personal billions as a real estate deal-maker, Mr. Trump has hitched himself to the public discontent with the political powers in the country, offering his wealth and draconian solutions to "Make America Great Again."


With no experience whatever in the affairs of public or foreign policy, he has thrown open a national window of rebellion against the establishment of the Republican Party to which he avows allegiance (provided it agrees to accept him as its nominee).

The 16 other contenders for the GOP nomination, while strategically embracing the same public disaffection, with a few exceptions decline to criticize Mr. Trump for the reckless and slanderous language he uses to further ignite the flames.

In "Network," Howard Beale has truly gone mad, announcing his intention to commit suicide on his final television show, but instead, in a convoluted plot that only Hollywood could dream up, he is assassinated.

Mr. Trump, after bulldozing his way to the lead in the early polls, has begun to broaden his campaign of personal bombast and theatrics. He is said to be building an organization for the coming caucuses and primaries.

This is the hard, nitty-gritty work by which nominations are won, and the next question is whether he and his band of true-believing mercenaries will be up to converting the horde of Mr. Trump enthusiasts to actually participate in that process.

The Trump camp has finally produced a position paper on how he will control illegal immigration with a truly restrictive wall along the Mexican border and other barriers, giving his campaign at least a veneer of substance.

But voter turnout in the nomination process is historically much lower than in general elections. Many registered and self-identified Republicans have already told pollsters they don't believe Mr. Mr. Trump can be elected, or don't want him as the party nominee. He has, after all, refused to reject a third-party route if turned down by the GOP.

Also, as competitors run out of money, steam and the ability to delude themselves that they can win the Republican nomination, Mr. Trump's present chunk of about 25 percent of the vote might not look so formidable as the pie gets sliced in fewer pieces.


One of the other aspirants, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, relegated to the also-rans shut out of the first major televised debate, has already started to cut staff or stop paying salaries.

The early leader in the fight for the Iowa caucuses, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, has begun to slip after lackluster campaigning as arguably the most unvarnished conservative in the pack. Two golden oldies, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and formerArkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, also have been fast losing altitude in the polls.

Serious establishment Republicans indicate increasing concern about the image their party is acquiring as a result of the carnival atmosphere that Mr. Trump has brought to the 2016 campaign. Inevitably, many are likely to look to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bushas the grown-up in the bunch, though his own campaign has been cautious and has offered little to lift voters' interests.

As the time for actually choosing approaches. opening the window and shouting, "I'm mad as hell," may not be enough for either Mr. Trump or the party that nervously gives him the megaphone through which to arouse the fed-up faithful.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is