Whether he feels like Cinderella or George S. Patton is known only at this point to Donald John Trump, the silver-spoon kid turned to bankrupt middle-aged real estate speculator and now a 69-year-old billionaire with the Republican nomination for president within his grasp.
With his Tuesday victory in the Indiana GOP primary over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Trump has defeated a field of opponents that once numbered in the teens. He has dispatched senators and governors and the presumed frontrunner, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, son and brother of presidents. And he did so with nary a hint of civility or politeness.
In most presidential elections, Trump would have seemed a sideshow, a fellow in a circus tent wrestling alligators or some such. But in the Republican primaries, he targeted the fears and prejudices of voters, attacking immigrants and advocating mass deportation, touting his wall he promised Mexico would pay for, pushing a philosophy that was xenophobic and mean-spirited. Trump took his anger to a big scale, his hands waving, his shoulders rising and falling like a New York street tough (though he has seen the streets mostly through limos, his or his father’s) as he lambasted all before him.
One of the more outrageous ironies in his campaign, of course, was that Trump was a Donny-come-lately to some of the conservative views. At one time, he was pro-choice. Now he’s not. At one time, he supported Democrats.
And his much-touted fortune – he boasted of how rich he was even in his gilded announcement of his candidacy in Trump Tower in New York – wasn’t built by the sweat of his own brow exactly. He inherited a fortune from his father and, in the course of assembling his own billions, came through multiple bankruptcies that left investors holding the bag and workers unemployed. His self-promotion got him a television show, “The Apprentice.” Now it’s Trump who is auditioning for one of the world’s biggest roles.
On the day after he clinched the GOP nomination, Trump talked of uniting the Republican Party while establishment Republicans are pondering how to put distance between themselves and their party’s nominee. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator who had early ambitions for the White House and emerged as a fairly reasonable voice in all the chaos, put it bluntly: “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed ... and we will deserve it.”
But Trump’s next challenge isn’t uniting his party, which seems futile anyway. It is facing Democrat Hillary Clinton, who’s likely to overcome a challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and win her party’s nomination. Clinton is no freshman senator or obscure governor. If Trump pulls the same kind of amateurish theatrics against Clinton that he used against his weak Republican rivals, she will answer with a positive, hopeful appeal to the best instincts and ambitions of the American people.
In the process, though, she will not allow Trump’s wild accusations and insults to go unanswered. Bullies don’t respond well to those who stand up to them. And Hillary Clinton will stand up.