We’ve never met. But in the 1950s we were close in age and lived within a few miles of each other in Queens.
Your shtick — calling opponents “Lyin’ Ted,” “Lil’ Marco,” and “low energy Bush” — transported me back to that shared boyhood where our preteen street talk was a lighthearted form of one-up insults known as “ranking out.”
While much of the public are shocked by your rhetoric, I’ve been amused. When I heard your braggadocio on MSNBC that “I have a very good brain” as a substitute for foreign policy experience I broke out laughing. This was so unapologetic Queens. However, what might be a funny put-down in a bar is not amusing coming from someone who wants to manage the challenges of being president.
One of my concerns is that too often you have given lip service to the size of the national debt. You first offered the rhetorical equivalent of a drive-by shooting when you suggested paying off a $19 trillion debt by selling federally owned real estate and renegotiating trade deals (which have little to do with the debt).
It’s clear we need a president with real solutions — not bluster about high walls and slogans on greatness or size of body parts. So what will you do given the Congressional Budget Office projects the debt will increase by nearly $11 trillion over the next 10 years?
Your debt comments showcase a habit of promising things you can’t deliver. Watching your fans yell and applaud at campaign rallies is fascinating theater. (The same holds true for the “Sandernistas” spectacles.)
But the reality is that both you and Bernie are driving expectations to a level that cannot be met. Not even close. And when already frustrated people find out they are now considered Trump’s Chumps, there will be even greater political upheaval than we are witnessing today. And that won’t be fun to watch. Even if the person who scammed the crowd “has a very good brain.”
Admittedly, since you expressed your interest in a federal real estate fire sale, you’ve done a 180 and said we are stuck with the debt. Both of those options are unsustainable. You need to do better. And to stick with a solution that will require some economic pain. Explain the problem in stark detail that those before you have created (you would be good at this) and then have the courage of your convictions of how we are going to get out of this mess.
If you want a mandate you need to establish a solution before the election. Your protectionist proposals would retard economic growth. And your unwillingness to challenge the entitlement state despite the pressure of retiring baby boomers will keep spending on its inexorable rise. Once people believe the problem is a near-term personal threat, they will accept any port in that storm.
You’ve faced withering criticism for your little-known foreign policy consultants and your position on who can use the woman’s public restrooms in North Carolina. These are unforced errors. It’s too apparent that the combative eye rolls when trying to be dismissive are really mental timeouts while searching for something to say. The public won’t buy it when you’re commander in chief.
Beyond the debt, there is another untapped area for you that Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders can’t touch. You can establish a huge wedge offense that doesn’t include math, the Federal Reserve or some other eye-glazing substance. It is an issue that affects millions of working Americans. Polls suggest union members like their union but feel oppressed by the leadership. They want more freedom from intimidation and want more power to hold their union leaders accountable.
The Employee Rights Act (ERA) polls 80-85 percent approval among every demographic, including union households. The ERA polls better than a minimum wage increase among every demographic. It incorporates eight extremely popular pro-employee reforms without attacking unions or collective bargaining.
Hillary can’t support the ERA given her tight hip lock with union bigwigs. You can pin her to the mat on a refusal to guarantee secret ballot elections or union members control over their dues money. Newt Gingrich has called the ERA “genius.” Why not go for that?
Last week, your adviser, Paul Manafort, said the real Donald Trump has yet to be seen. Really? He suggested we will see thoughtful reason and humility going forward. He says we’ve been witnessing an act. I’m not buying it. Paul missed the Queens warm-up act in the 1950s. We both know your attitude is intuitive. And it is working.
What you need is to couple it to the lousy decisions (not people) that have brought us to this place where America may not be great forever. Offer us policies that can be expected to work with a bipartisan (or GOP dominated) Congress.
Despite Mr. Manafort’s excuse, I’ll know when the fake act is on stage. It’s when you are reading from the teleprompter.
• Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Company, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.