In the first few months of the Republican presidential primary, many journalists likened Trump to a drunk uncle, including me, even though none of my 12 uncles are anything like Trump, and my family doesn’t really drink. I think the metaphor suggests there was something familiar about Trump’s affect, but also a feeling of being forced to listen to him—Be polite to the old crank your aunt forced on us. There was a sense that, like an unwelcome relative, his visit would be bearably brief.
Then, as Trump climbed higher and higher in the polls, journalists and politicians started calling him a carnival barker. It suggested more power than the drunk uncle, and a bigger audience, plus a sense that he was conning people out of their money. I always thought this was an awfully dated metaphor—who even goes to carnivals anymore? Wasn’t that a thing people did before TV?
On Bloomberg’s Masters in Politics podcast, linked in Playbook on Thursday, Republican strategist Mike Murphy says, “On television it’s a ratings war and Trump is a carnival, and carnivals get ratings. If Trump started doing human sacrifices they’d probably think, ‘How many cameras to bring?’” The comment feels especially stale. Now that he’s on track to win the GOP nomination, and is threatening riots if he doesn’t get it, the Trump threat is way beyond mistreated circus elephants. He’s lost any quirky, loveable con man charm. Trump’s audience is now on a mass scale, and he threatens to do massively horrible things, like expel millions of people from their homes. There is no room for subtlety. The Trump metaphor of the moment is Adolf Hitler.