I first read Dave Barry when I was at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, where a certain Illinois newbie called Barack Obama was a keynote speaker. Barry, as in Dave, had a daily column in the Convention tabloid that injected plenty of mirth into a dullfest headlined by the party’s nominee that year, John Kerry.
Barry, though, is also a humorous novelist. There’s one he’s written with Alan Zweibel, a writer with the legendary television sketch show Saturday Night Live. In that book, Donald Trump is at the Republican National Convention at Tampa in 2012 and is asked if it were up to him, who would he like the party to choose.
“Me,” he replies.
The authors add, “Then he smiled like that was a joke. Then got serious like it really wasn’t a joke.”
That book is called Lunatics. Just to clarify, it is not biographical. It may be ironic that the only people who saw the Trump run coming were a couple of satirists. Or, perhaps, apt.
After a North-eastern sweep this Tuesday, Teflon Don is no longer a laughing matter. He has a habit of speaking his mind without minding his words. As in his riff on an Indian call centre worker’s accent. ‘Tis the season, after all, when H1B visas and outsourcing get savaged by wannabe nominees. In 2008, for instance, Virginia’s former governor and current senator Mark Warner gave his own keynote speech at a party convention where the usual H1B-bashing figured.
But Warner is a Democrat and that’s been part of the party’s playbook — nasty foreigners stealing jobs. That Trump is thus far the source of such attacks is a facet of this year’s topsy-turvy race. The putative standard-bearers of the two parties for the November presidential elections seem to be camping out in each other’s territories.
One of the Koch brothers, traditional Liberal hate objects, expressed his preference for Clinton over Trump. Many other Republican establishment figures are similarly inclined; given their leanings, that’s hardly surprising. In the Neo-con sphere, America muscles its way through the world, and doesn’t mess around with isolationism. But that’s in Hillary’s wheelhouse, as her vote for former President George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq and her own support, as Secretary of State, for uprooting Libyan supremo Muammar Gaddafi, make evident. Trump, meanwhile, has bashed the Iraq war. He also makes nasty with Wall Street, refusing to cash in on his contacts, while Hillary uses it as her money machine. Finally, while Trump talks protectionism, the Clinton free trade track record works better for some in the Republican establishment.
This is an alternative reality show, where Bernie Sanders talks about his support base strengthening once Trump secures the Republican nomination, arguing that independent voters flocking to the New York billionaire would then shift to the Vermont socialist. Meanwhile, the Senator’s youthful base capitalises Clinton with a C for Conservative.
It’s true that Trump throws red meat to his slavering hordes — Build that wall. But his spiel-bound audience is most entranced by his promises to erect trade barriers, an appeal that comes from left field. As he does so, the Clinton camp contemplates creating a Republicans for Hillary. Again, she throws scraps to her base, especially minorities who’ve buoyed her primary campaign. However, when it comes to basics, she speaks the language of Republicans cozy in their cocoons in Washington, with positions that seem to bristle with reason. For Trump, that’s treason.
Both frontrunners have created their own swing states, beyond red and blue party borders to an outreach for a purple reign. These are, at least, the primary colours. Will these hues fade in the heat of summer? Conventional thinking is that nominees become more centrist as they get into general election mode. But 2016 has been as conventional as a Prince album.
When November finally arrives, after what seems to be a cycle that’s been going through its revolutions forever, there may just be plenty of confused voters to confound the pundits and pollsters.
Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs
The views expressed are personal