In announcing the death of Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama understandably left out the part about how the military operation had also done away with Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, making room for serious candidates to compete.
Trump doesn’t know it’s over, of course. But the rest of us should. It can take something as weighty as the killing of the world’s most-wanted terrorist to remember that politics isn’t a sport, no matter the metaphors and hot air that passes for news on cable television. Trump was playing the presidential race as a reality show, and we let him. Harmless and mostly ignored during his previous brushes with political campaigning, he cried wolf louder this time to get the attention he believes he deserves.
How unsuited Trump is to the White House. A successful president has to glide like a duck through his public schedule while paddling furiously beneath the surface to deal with the non-public crises that make up a chief executive’s life.
Over the course of the meetings with his national security team deciding whether to send commandos into the fortified compound in Pakistan suspected of housing bin Laden, the president was dealing with a possible government shutdown, the federal budget, a trip to Latin America, fresh military action in Libya and the deadliest tornadoes to hit the U.S. in almost 40 years. Thanks to Trump, that full agenda also included weighing whether pressing for release of his long-form birth certificate by Hawaii officials would halt the malignant “birther” movement.
How much more pertinent Obama’s birth-certificate press conference now seems. The president, noting how he can’t usually get live network coverage for more pressing matters, said of the false controversy, “We’ve got better stuff to do. I’ve got better stuff to do. We’ve got big problems to solve.” As we now know, this was less than a week before the raid was carried out.
The end of Trump began less than 24 hours before the takedown of Osama. At the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner on Saturday night, Trump was reduced to a laugh line, both by Obama and by the featured speaker, comedian Seth Meyers. “Donald Trump has been saying he would run for president as a Republican,” Meyers said, “which is surprising since I just assumed he was running as a joke.”
With much of the country’s attention soaked up by the blowhard from Queens, the quieter presidential prospects -- that’s all of them -- have had a hard time being heard.
One of those, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, is the anti- Trump. He’s that mythical “adult” Washington Republicans keep talking about. Often described as a policy-and-numbers guy without much charisma, he’s a solid public servant with a sunny but modest disposition who’s kept Indiana solvent while other states are going broke. He’s mostly done this without embracing his party’s reverse-Robin-Hood ethic.
Asked during lunch with Bloomberg News editors on Tuesday why he might run, Daniels gave a characteristically small answer: “I believe the country’s at a very perilous point, arithmetically.”
Not the type to dump on his fellow Republicans, he nonetheless wrote off everyone currently considering a presidential run, saying he doesn’t see anyone who’s up to the task. Now that his close friend and fellow governor Haley Barbour has dropped out, he sounds like a candidate about to jump in -- if he can get his reluctant wife and daughters to agree. Seriousness may have its day.
We’re attracted to flamboyant characters when we feel insecure. Even after invading Afghanistan and Iraq and putting ourselves into perilous debt to pursue a global war on terror, Americans had to wait a decade to avenge the awful wrong done on 9/11.
As a crowd gathered outside the White House gates to chant “USA! USA!” and sing the national anthem, the world was right again, if only for a time, as well as a less-hospitable place for those who would reduce our politics to a sideshow.
Trump does deserve some credit for serving the Republican establishment’s desire to stop the soap opera-worthy candidacy of Sarah Palin. As he rose, she sank, to 10 percent among Republicans in a recent Gallup poll. There was room for only one bizarro candidate in the race at a time. Now there’s room for none.
(Margaret Carlson, author of “Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House” and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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