Commentary

Trump of '96 Welcomes Rise of 'Filthy Rich' Populism: Read My Lips

CEOs will make good presidents because they "understand incompetency," Morry Taylor says.

Morry Taylor

"Nice to meet you. I'm 20 years early."

AP Photo/The Hawk Eye, John Stoops

Think this presidential election couldn't get any more quirky, crowded and establishment-defying? Just think: The Grizz almost ran again, too.

Back in 1996, Morry "the Grizz" Taylor, chief executive of Titan Wheel International, offered a glimpse of what could happen if a corporate CEO tried a self-funded run for the Republican nomination.

He turned voter outreach into a lottery, distributing $5,000 pots to randomly selected Iowans who filled out his questionnaire. He talked of the federal government as "the largest business in the world" and the need for "someone who is not a member of the club" to fix it. He said he'd balance the budget within 18 months by dismissing one-third of the federal bureaucracy.

The "longest of long shots," as the New York Times called him, Taylor was among the outsiders -- Patrick Buchanan, Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes were the others -- who tried to derail the soporifically inevitable nomination of Bob Dole as the Republican nominee that year.

In the end, Taylor won few votes and no delegates and was back at his desk at Titan by mid-March, as Dole trudged to the Republican nomination and then to defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton. Still, Taylor won some notice. Michael Lewis, who'd not yet hit it big with "Moneyball" and "The Big Short," latched onto Taylor as an exemplar of the citizen-candidate, the CEO-as-president, Mr. Smith goes to Iowa.

"We all have a fantasy, and it is profitably exploited by Hollywood, that if only an honest and genuinely free man with a heart of gold ran for president, everything in the world would be put aright," Lewis wrote in "Trail Fever," his book on the 1996 campaign, later released as "Losers."

Of Taylor, he continued, "Well, now we know what happens when an honest and genuinely free man with a heart of gold runs for president. He spends $6.5 million and gets 7,000 votes."

When the 1996 Republican campaign is mentioned these days, it's usually to cite Buchanan's insurgency as a precursor to this year's Donald Trump phenomenon. But where Buchanan was a creature of the political establishment, and a cultural warrior first and foremost, Trump's all business.

Like the Grizz.

At 71, Taylor still runs what today is Titan International in Quincy, Illinois. Checking in with him is like embarking on a 99-county tour of Iowa: It's time-consuming, circuitous, and peppered with "bulls--t," one of his go-to descriptors.

"If I was running today, that would have been really wild," Taylor says in a phone interview. "I would have just been banging on all the fools over there listening to Bernie."

He'd promised his wife he wouldn't put her through another campaign after 1996, so another run wasn't happening. Instead, from the middle of 2014 until last month, he taped a weekly two-hour podcast in which, among other things, he mocked Nancy "Peletzi" and believers in global warming and urged his followers to read Roger Stone's "The Clintons' War on Women."

Now he'd like to see a Trump-Carly Fiorina ticket, because CEOs "understand incompetency," which is what presidents must tackle throughout the federal bureaucracy.

Also, "the only way you'll ever have a people's candidate," Taylor says, is to support someone who is "filthy rich." That may defy logic, but then so does Trump leading the national field by 16 points

The best politicians in America "are the heads of major corporations," Taylor explains. "The best politician, if you look in the financial sector, is probably Jamie Dimon. He's smart, and I like him. And how do you think Lloyd got there, out of Goldman? He didn't get there from his looks. They're smart, they're smooth, they know how to do it, and they don't take no prisoners when they're going up the chain of command."

Ben Carson? Smart guy and all, "but do you know a lot of doctors? I do. There's one thing doctors do not do very well -- and most lawyers don't either: You don't see them run a business."

He's convinced Hillary Clinton won't be the Democratic nominee; she will drop out midyear in exchange for a pardon from Obama. (It's complicated.) Sanders won't be the nominee either, of course. That "Marxist?" Are you kidding? No, the Democratic nominee will end up being Joe Biden, who will be enlisted to run by Obama. (The Obamas, by the way, "hate the Clintons.")

Taylor worries that a nut job with violent intentions is out there planning to disrupt Trump's CEO revolution. Taylor says he's not alone in that fear -- didn't you see the Bill Bennett e-mail expressing the same concern? (Except -- sorry, Morry -- that Bennett part is an Internet hoax.)

Now he's rolling.

Taylor would empty out that terrorist detention center, "Gizmo," by towing the inmates out to sea on a "great big barge" and giving them a chance to "die for Allah." He agrees with that thing Vladimir Putin said, about how "God makes the determination, not us humans, but you gotta get 'em to God first." (Another Internet myth, it turns out.)

Taylor worries about the U.S. military allowing Sikh soldiers to grow beards and wear turbans. Sikhs are "the protectors of India," he says, so "if we ever had a problem, he's got to defend India, not you."

He thinks the federal Department of Education workforce, which currently numbers 4,400, should be cut by 95 percent, for a total headcount of 200. You can't "take this cancerous federal bureaucracy and whittle it down" if you "run around wanting to be loved by everybody, like Obama."

Much of this, it's worth noting, is standard fare from any CEO who tries to become president. But at least Taylor makes it entertaining. You'd rather spend an hour on the phone with Steve Forbes?

(This version fixes a typographical error in the 21st paragraph.)

(Read My Lips is a column dedicated to the proposition that men and women in a position of power, or the pursuit of it, will say or do things for which they will be sorry.)

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