Plenty has been written about Trump’s rise to power. I won’t bore you with all of that, but here’s what Trump was doing last summer when everyone still thought he was a joke candidate.
Super Tuesday is over and the Republicans are going batshit crazy about Donald Trump’s crazy sweep of states.
You know, maybe they should have clued in to his tactics last summer. Even I did, and I wasn’t even paying as much attention to politics as usual because my mom was recovering from a near-death experience and I was her sole caregiver.
Back then, Jeb! (Bush) and Marco Rubio were traipsing about the country, marking their designated – and they believed, much deserved – places in the GOP aristocracy. Bush was the legacy candidate, destined to become president because of his famous last name. He deserved to be president, after all. His father and brother had been president, and damn it, it was his turn now.
Rubio, on the other hand, was the second coming of Ronald Reagan, a hand-picked successor to the light the path for a 21st century GOP. He was handsome with a pretty wife and four kids. He had the great American story that would resonate with voters – the son of a bartender and a maid. The kind of stuff America eats up in retail politics. He had even gone to bat for the party, giving the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union in 2013. And he faced humiliation with that famous water bottle incident.
Even with that, the GOP had made up its mind that either the old or the new would take on Hillary Clinton in November. The rest of the gazillion Republicans who entered could just duke it out in a few debates and exit stage right to the nearest Fox affiliate. Enter Trump.
Plenty has been written about Trump’s rise to power. I won’t bore you with all of that, but here’s what Trump was doing last summer when everyone still thought he was a joke candidate. He was speaking at a lot of Republican dinners throughout America.
These Republicans affairs, often called the Lincoln Day Dinner or some combination that includes Ronald Reagan’s name, are yearly celebrations and high-dollar fundraising events for many state and county organizations. It’s where politicos and elected officials gather to hobnob about the upcoming election or legislative session. They usually feature a prominent member of the party speaking and rah-rahing local politicians.
Before he even announced his run in June, Trump was hitting up these shindigs – and even hosting them.
In February, Trump addressed the Manhattan G.O.P.’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner in what a columnist called a “quasi-campaign tour.” At the time, “Trump said again that he would run, if only the Republican Party delivered to him the nomination without a primary challenger.”
Someone should have yelled, “It’s a trap!” like in “Star Wars” but alas.
Last March, Trump hosted one in Palm Beach at The Mar-A-Lago Club, which he owns, and where he hosted a press event Tuesday night (instead of a rally with common folk) after his numerous wins. The guest speaker in March at that GOP shindig? New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Imagine that. Cozy, huh?
Just days after Trump announced his presidency in June, Trump appeared at Maryland’s state Republican party’s Annual Red, White and Blue Dinner. That event had to be planned weeks in advance of his announcement – and that was a smart move.
Then in July, Trump spoke at its Reagan-Rockefeller Dinner in Hot Springs, Ark., a town with deep Bill Clinton connections where the former president graduated from high school. More than a 1,000 people attended, and it had to be moved to a bigger venue. The “Arkansas Times” the state’s liberal weekly newspaper, wrote: Hahahahahahaha: The Republican Party of Arkansas has announced that Donald Trump, the most hated person to run for president in the last 35 years (and possibly ever), will headline its annual fundraising Reagan-Rockefeller Dinner.”
At the time the GOP chairman, Doyle Webb, said Trump wanted to come to Arkansas to ask Hillary Clinton a few questions. Clinton, too, was in Arkansas that same weekend.
“He wanted to come in and maybe ask a few questions of the former first lady,” said Webb. “He’s humorous, he’s serious, he’s intense….it’ll be an interesting evening.”
Well, it’s certainly turned into an interesting election, hasn’t it?
When I dug deeper this week about why the Arkansas Party invited Trump to their yearly event, some Republicans told me it was to sell tickets. Trump was famous. He had a reality television program. He was a new face on the scene. Many did not think he would end up as the party’s nominee. No, he was simply entertainment. Surely, ultimately, come Iowa, New Hampshire and Super Tuesday, Trump would be a distant joke.
Instead, the Republican establishment like the party in Arkansas invited in the vampire, and there may not be enough garlic or wooden stakes to stop him.
Now look where the GOP is – on fire and in chaos. And it started at these high-dollar gatherings in places like Hot Springs because a lot of people were simply drawn to celebrity over substance. Now Republicans have no one but themselves to blame for the hot mess they have in Donald Trump.
Suzi Parker, TBS’ cultural writer, is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Echo Ellis: Adventures of a Girl Reporter,” “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt” and “1000 Best Bartender’s Recipes.” She writes frequently for The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, The Daily Beast and numerous other publications. She is also a contributor to the Amazon.com bestseller, Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox (She Writes Press) Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.
Image via flickr.com/DonkeyHotey/CC License