If you’re going to be talking politics on the Internet right now, some amount of conversation is probably going to be dedicated to Donald J. Trump. He’s continuing to cruise at the top of the GOP primary polls, and he’s nothing if not headline-grabbing, what with his wildly offensive comments, the unearned sense of authority, the crude Twitter account, and the whole deal. The fact is, some people like that kind of stuff, and you might even have to talk to one of them someday.
It might seem like a remote contingency now, but you never know what could happen. However unlikely a Donald Trump presidency might seem, it’s no less a bizarre and cautionary future to consider, and for each passing week he’s led in the polls, he’s been proving a whole lot of political observers wrong.
Trump’s already weathered multiple controversies that would’ve sunk other less-sensational candidates, and he’s never really offered a full-throated apology for any of them. He’s basically a candidate who exists outside the traditional rules of presidential campaigns, which can lead conversations about him to some rather weird places. Here are some answers you can give if you’re in a conversation—or an outright argument—with a big-time Trump fan.
1) “I like that Donald Trump tells it like it is.”
The concept of “telling it like it is” has gotten to a pretty unhelpful place in American politics. When people who get praised for so-called “straight-talk,” it’s so often about tone and spectacle—instead of facts, realistic expectations, and common decency.
For example, was Trump “telling it like it is” when he generalized Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists during his presidential announcement speech? Sure, he gave it that reedy Trump delivery, but doesn’t it matter that the statistics blatantly contradict him? That by the best research available, first-generation immigrants commit less crimes than native-born citizens? Should we consider all fallacious, aggressively xenophobic rhetoric to actually be heady truth-telling?
2. “Trump comes right out and admits he worked the political system!”
He has indeed done this, and it’s probably one of his more effective ideas at selling himself to a broader audience—the image of a former big business political influencer who has now changed his stripes and is ready to tell everyone about those seedy things he once did.
The implication, obviously, is that he wouldn’t resort to those sorts of relationships if he were in office, and that might or might not be true. But Trump simply paying lip service to the idea that politicians are all bought and paid for isn’t exactly new or dynamic. To the contrary, it’s a cliché how candidates for political office are keen to indict the current climate in Washington as corrupt and needing reform—in many cases, right up until the moment they get there.
3) “Well, he was right to respond to that bimbo Megyn Kelly.”
Hey, whoa there! I didn’t realize you were a misogynist. Seriously—if you watched the Fox News GOP debate from earlier this month, and your conclusion was that Kelly did something wrong, you might have some issues with women worth reflecting on.
What actually happened was this: A professional host and interviewer asked a tough, but extremely relevant and important question of a presidential candidate. A question that Fox News likely has its own reasons for wanting asked, too—Donald Trump’s history of verbal abuse toward women, some of which is alleged and some of which has happened in plain daylight on Twitter, could be a huge stumbling block in a general election.
.@ariannahuff is unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man- he made a good decision.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 28, 2012
How much money is the extremely unattractive (both inside and out) Arianna Huffington paying her poor ex-hubby for the use of his name?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 7, 2015
If you’re the sort of person who was OK with Trump tacitly calling Kelly a “bimbo” on Twitter and continuing to bring her up despite having every reason to let it go, it’s probably safe to guess you’re not a big Hillary Clinton fan, right? Do you really want to envision a reality where Clinton thumps Trump in a general election because his attitude toward women turns off the broader American public? Do you really want to know your man lost the White House over a penchant for angry tweets?
The primary debates are basically the time to get candidates to answer on these sort of issues. Kelly was right to ask it, and frankly, it should’ve a favor to the Republican Party.
4) “I like that Trump tweets all the time and doesn’t back down. We never win anymore!”
I think most people would agree that impulse control is an important quality in a president. It’s a stressful job, being on-call 24/7 for all the world’s worst, most devastating and fraught moments, which is why the notion of the steady-handed leader often bolsters a voter’s confidence.
It was the whole conceit of that 3am phone call campaign ad Clinton ran in 2008, trying to exploit then Sen. Barack Obama’s relative inexperience. And while Democratic voters clearly thought Obama was more than serious-minded and dedicated enough to handle that responsibility, are you sure that claim can be made for Trump?
If my president got an early morning phone call, suffice to say, I’d rather he not be busy taunting Megyn Kelly on Twitter.
5) “We need somebody who’ll finally get tough on foreign policy.”
Well, there’s no doubt that Trump talks a tough game when it comes to other countries—he sort of makes it sound like the world will just roll over in front of him, exposing its collective belly for him to scratch.
You may remember when he insisted that he’d bring oil prices down by swearing at OPEC leaders back in 2011, when he was teasing a possible 2012 run. Here’s what he told a Las Vegas audience, as reported by Mother Jones: “We have nobody in Washington that sits back and said, you’re not going to raise that fucking price.”
He also had a simple message for China: “Listen, you motherf****rs—we’re going to tax you 25 percent!” This is in keeping with the general level of seriousness he seems to apply to his prognostications—he also insists that if he’s elected, he’ll force the Mexican government to finance a border wall, and that’s still nowhere near the most antagonistic component of his far-right immigration plan.
If you’re the kind of person who wants some more strident red lines in international negotiations, say—to try to secure those ever-elusive “better deals” that some conservatives have been harping on lately—that’s fine, even if we might disagree. But be forewarned: What Trump’s putting out there is little more than presumptuous bombast, so don’t be shocked if that ridiculous wall idea never comes to fruition.
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Chris Tognotti is a writer at Bustle and a contributor to the Daily Dot. Chris tweets at @ctognotti.
Illustration by Tiffany Pai