JONATHAN CHAIT APRIL 29, 2011
Donald Trump insists "there's nobody less of a racist" than him. Except there are a lot of people who didn't take out a full page ad to demand the death penalty for a 14-year-old black kid accused of a non-capitol crime who subsequently turned out to be innocent:
One of the young men exonerated in the Central Park Jogger case has strong words for Donald Trump.
In an exclusive interview with NY1, Raymond Santana is demanding an apology from the real estate mogul who is now considering a run for president.
Trump paid $85,000 for full-page ads in four city newspapers in 1989 calling for the death penalty for Santana and four other teens whose videotaped confessions outraged the city -- confessions they insisted had been forced by police.
In the ads, which have the banner headline "Bring Back the Death Penalty," Trump wrote, "They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence."
Santana was 14 years old at the time.
But of course, the whiff of being accused of racism is going to turn out to be Trump's greatest asset. The conservative view is that we used to have a white-on-black racism problem in this country, but it was mainly solved during the mid-1960's, and now the major issue is anti-white discrimination. If Trump started hurling racial epithets at Obama, or proposing to discriminate against blacks in hiring or school admissions, Republicans would consider him a racist. But insinuating that Obama has accomplished everything in his life due to the benefits of his race, and then suffering the slings and arrows of liberal scolds, will position him perfectly. Indeed, it allows him to tap into a deep well of conservative resentment that no other Republican candidate is coming anywhere near.
Indeed, Trump is tapping into the sense of economic decline, sublimated racial grievance, and nationalism that propelled the Perot and Buchanan candidacies. Here's one expression of potential Trump support:
For those of you who remember “Brotherly Love” star Joey Lawrence from the ’90s, the actor said on Tuesday that he would be open to calling billionaire Donald Trump, “Mr. President.”
“I’d be open to Donald,” Lawrence told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column on Tuesday. “He’s somebody out of the box and I think that some of the stuff he’s saying makes sense. It sounds like you and I would say it, and it’s time. I’m tired of ’so politically correct’ every step of the way. It’s like there are times when we need to say, ‘We’re getting our rear ends kicked, we are the world leader, we need to step up and act like it.’”
Now, Lawrence is an actor, but that's not really the point. Actor interviews can be useful because they take the place of man-on-the-street interviews. They're people with roughly average levels of knowledge about politics, but reporters write down what they say. Lawrence is a useful stand in for the point of view that a lot of conservatives share.
The interesting thing about Trump's base is that it's both highly conservative and non-partisan. Conventional Republicans rightly despise and fear Trump. But he has appeal both among the xenophobic right and the populist center -- two constituencies that may be immune to the GOP establishment's attempts to marginalize him. Again, I am certainly not predicting that Trump will win, but I am coming around to the view that he could play a major role in the campaign.