“A liberal is a person who believes that water can be made to run uphill. A conservative is someone who believes everybody should pay for his water. I’m somewhere in between: I believe water should be free, but that water flows downhill.” –Theodore White
by Marion Marks
If Donald Trump is a student of history and secretly a reader of political prose or perhaps even biography, he may not so secretly be channeling his campaign along a path akin to John F. Kennedy. Following this theory should initially draw scorn from serious students of politics, but consider the 1960 race from the standpoint of the one writer who had the ring-side seat and proved accurate over time, Theodore White, author of numerous The Making of President volumes.
Also consider the “Playboy” image of JFK for his time versus how it later was proven versus the Trump established history versus all the allegations in play. These theories alone give pause to consider the possibility that Trump may even be playing the Kennedy images far better than even his toughest critics consider causing him.
In 1956 Theodore White was a struggling writer for Collier’s, and was on the campaign trail following Estes Kefauver through the early primaries. In these days, the reporter who chose to tag along could often get a ride in a candidate’s car and have daily one-on-one sessions, at length. White had hopes of writing pieces that could later be woven into a series for Collier’s or book he hoped to call “The Making of a President 1956.” However, before he could get his work off the ground, Colliers folded due to financial strains from newer media, radio and television, and competing publications.
While White’s ambitious project was temporarily sidelined, he completed The View from the Fortieth Floor, based on the demise of Collier’s and the parent company. The rights to the script were purchased by actor Gary Cooper, and this sale gave White the freedom to fully report in person the 1960 presidential campaign, developing a script based on candidates whose ambitions drove them through the political world. The analysis and reporting of the political process of running for high office has never been the same. White was so successful he used the template to cover campaigns and candidates into the 1980’s.
White’s path of investigation and research developed a systematic analysis of those who ran for president and created a framework that improved all future campaigns. The study of the transformation of candidates along the campaign trail proved to be financially viable and media model for success that Donald Trump may have seriously emulated as his campaign kicked off. The Making of a President has roots that have proven worthy of study, even today. Never before had such in deep analysis considered detailed roadmaps, created by professionals in the field of campaign management.
In early complete analyses of the 1960 race, Richard Nixon drew scorn from the liberal Democrats in much the same way Trump has today. While White’s conclusions of Nixon demonstrate compassion for Kennedy, a warmer candidate, Nixon’s villain traits permitted him to vanquish the more noble Adlai Stevenson, as well as all other contenders who saw through the modern campaign tactics of both Nixon and Kennedy. Capable social and media engineers existed in prior races, but new scientific skills and manipulation of the media and the media cycle was taking on a whole new flavor that cynics found repulsive. As “The Art of the Deal” utilized as much self-promotion as any media science, Trump proves that he failed to follow his own advice in business bankruptcies as seen after the 1987 publication of his successful book,
John F. Kennedy and his team efficiently and ruthlessly remolded the image of a presidential candidate using his Harvard and family pedigree along with money and brute force. Writing, even with the use of ghost writing assistance, two well-received documents, one considered a historic biography, which established credentials that broke the mold his father created for the family name, Kennedy established his image and reputation in business, international relations and as a World War II hero. As Irish-Catholic Kennedy broke through stereotypical limits of political roles in fourteen years prior to running for president, so too Trump hopes to shatter novice records and shock the establishment.
“There is no excitement anywhere in the world, short of war, to match the excitement of the American presidential campaign.” – Theodore White
Prior to White’s treatment of the 1960 campaign, journalists had never before delved into the characters with specialized knowledge from the inside, on the road, and completed a novel version that captured the candidates in Hollywood form that Americans could digest, only as Hollywood could create them. The Herman Wouk or James Michener prose of character development of the day was the pattern actors, directors and the public yearned to devour, and White was the writer who eventually delivered this product following the election. White also molded a legacy which may have received more than a fair treatment in glossing over blemishes. Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the president, believed he could elevate his family to royalty status through managing the media.
So, how has Trump digested and remolded his image with this potential information? What Kennedy traits can a “Democrapublican” such as Trump utilize to capture the majority of the electoral college needed in the campaign? Is there something likable enough in the Trump personality that stylistically voters can latch on to transfer in the voting booth? Is the Clinton name so tarnished that the race to the gutter between the two will be a national disgrace? [I promise I didn’t know the term Democrapublican had already been used, but it just goes to show that often great minds fish in the same sewer.]
In 1960 Kennedy had perhaps more strikes against him than Trump does today. Kennedy was an Irish Catholic who relied on his father’s political power brokerage to elevate him to the presidency. There was no secret that Joe Kennedy was tied to the mob, played hard-ball with Chicago and Cook County’s Richard J. Daley machine and knew just about every political trick in the books. However, the Nixon machine and political bag of dirty tricks were so foul that Stevenson even considered endorsing the Democrat, Kennedy. So on the level of shenanigans, today’s cries of foul are nothing new. Nixon, like Trump, was considered foul in part because of the manner and tone with which he treated members of the press as well as his subordinates.
Trump, however, appears to have created a new mold for a political party that strongly focusses on harnessing anger and hatred that he has been instrumental in fostering to point up failures within the system. Never missing an opportunity to use put-downs or call out a dissenting voice, regardless of the party of the level dissension, the gender of the dissenter or the minority represented, Trump manages to leverage disenfranchised white male Republicans along with fringe Democrats who oppose the Clinton machine. The ease with which Trump has shed his record of New York Democrat makes Kennedy’s job of losing the Irish-Catholic stigma appear to come from a First Grade Primer.
The Trump campaign began demonstrating very little resemblance to a political candidate promotion, as the handlers and public relations team more closely became a TV campaign committee. Over time morphing into more traditional political jobs resembles a function of the ease with which Trump dispensed his Republican rivals. Trump systematically attacked lead rivals, starting with “Low-Energy” Jeb Bush. Media reports on the candidate, as concerns politics, are far more focused on the contour of each candidate’s treatment of elements of the electorate, minorities, nuances of social issues and special interests. The media and bloggers stretch, often laboriously, discussions of religious differences, processes, personalities and “exclusive” insider secrets that play to the interests of political news addicts. These are generally fodder for days of cable news and incessant polling.
Kennedy’s Playboy image was toned down when he married Jaqueline Bouvier in 1953, but always he was seen in the company of beautiful women and Hollywood elites. Marilyn Monroe was tied to the Kennedy men up until her death and the performance at JFK’s birthday gala(video) was the subject of gossip at the time and even today. Kennedy may have had only one wife, but Trump has never allowed a current wife from slowing his dalliances with future wives.
Kennedy could use his charm to win over scholars, high society and tradesmen, yet he was capable of communicating with all voters. Trump equally attempts to insult on one hand those he is expected to win over just in time to secure their votes in November. Helen Thomas, UPI correspondent and press secretary to Jackie Kennedy would roll over in her grave at the thought of Trump and his entourage as first family.
Trump my have taken to heart one of Theodore White’s quote regarding a hero who goes against the tide of public belief as well as expectations. Working through the disjoint path and logic, you would believe there is a plan.
“To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see everyday, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform.” ― Theodore H. White
What Theodore White began as “the American literature of reality,” has turned into more of an Andrew Niccol farcical Truman Show starring the best and worst of American political satire. It would almost be humorous to believe that never have so few spent so much to accomplished so little and destroyed a culture as the congressional and presidential candidates in the last year on the public stage.
Trump certainly has demonstrated no indications that he believes his actions will be accountable to any party platform or even congressional oversight. Perhaps he expects the country to also vote that the Constitution is only a suggestion of presidential guidelines. As we progress toward November, it will continue to be interesting to see how Trump reacts to revelations regarding his actual history and the dissection of history, especially his Democrapublican approach to the office he seeks. Having a belief in what Trump will say and do next is not quite as easy as picking the next lottery winner. True believers must remain resolute in belief that Trump’s next words will be acceptable in the same way Republicans have faith in theories of validated scientists, like Creationists.
Another real issue of Trump, that should be more troubling to others, is that Trump closely resembles an onion. The more layers you peel, the more there is to see. All too easily forgotten by many, especially for Trump supporters is the 1987 book, Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump by Harry Hurt III.
“…based, the publisher tells us, on “firsthand contact with all of the principals.” As Hurt spins out his breathless tales of self-promotion and sexual betrayal and sheer self-aggrandizement, we come to realize that Trump was never quite what he advertised–he was not especially adept at deal-making or lovemaking, he was not glamorous or urbane, and he was not even all that rich.” –JONATHAN KIRSCH, Los Angeles Times
Layer upon layer and the onion mist stings my eyes. I’m so appreciative to be an observer, along for the ride. Would someone please pick up my tab?
– Theodore White would have been 100 years old this month. –