Time magazine deserves credit for taking the annual Person of the Year choice very seriously. By navigating the Greek debt crisis and opening the doors of her country to Syrian refugees, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, this year’s recipient of the accolade, truly did loom large on the international stage. But there was someone else who also loomed large. In fact, he was huge — as he would say himself.
Donald Trump knew he was a contender for the Person of the Year title. In fact, The Donald told a Time reporter that “there is only one person you can pick. It’s got to be Trump.” I suspect many of the editors at Time agreed with him but did not want to give one more boost to the biggest ego on the planet. Certainly, in terms of American politics, though, Trump ranked higher than anyone else. In 2015, he broke all the rules and shattered all expectations. Giving him another magazine cover would have been akin to feeding a rampaging beast, but it would not have been without justification.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush started the year as the inside favorite to become the Republican presidential nominee. Now, as the year closes, his aspiration to follow his dad and brother into the Oval Office has been put on hold, if not destroyed, by Trump’s rude rise to front-runner status. Bush seems mystified by the situation and has yet to find a way not to come out looking feeble in debate confrontations with the billionaire bully.
“He’s all over the map, misinformed at best and preying on people’s fears at worst,” Bush says of Trump, and he is entirely accurate. Trump is the complete opposite of Angela Merkel. Merkel is a reassuringly rational and dispassionate leader who waits to take action until every aspect of a problem has been analyzed and all reasonable options given exhaustive consideration. Trump, by contrast, is impulsiveness and bellicosity personified.
Trump has built his campaign on half-truths, whole fictions, jingoistic rhetoric, xenophobic fears and big boasts with no details to back them up. With scant qualifications for the nation’s most important job, Trump should have long ago been fired like a bad contestant on “The Apprentice.” Instead, he keeps rising in the polls. Conventional Republicans are now forced to contemplate the cataclysmic possibility he could become their nominee.
Bush and what’s left of the GOP establishment keep insisting Trump does not represent the real Republican Party. Maybe not the old party, but the aging, white, non-college-educated, economically challenged voters who are the base of the contemporary Republican Party find in Trump a champion who gives voice to their seething resentments. Trump’s candidacy has unleashed legions of people whose brains have been marinating for years in the toxic brew of right-wing talk radio. He has given them a reason to come together at his campaign rallies, less to applaud Trump’s rambling, self-absorbed speeches than to commune with kindred spirits.
Trump may yet fade once the primary season kicks in a few weeks from now, but those who have banded together to revel in his politically incorrect tirades will not disappear. Close to a quarter of all American voters agree with Trump that Muslims should be barred from the country, millions of undocumented immigrants should be sent packing and President Obama should not be trusted because he is not really an American. They share Trump’s dismal vision of America as a failing country that is being overrun by outsiders and duped by foreign leaders from Mexico City to Moscow.
Conventional wisdom says there are not enough of these infuriated, fearful voters to elect Trump president. Conventional wisdom, though, was a singular casualty in the politics of 2015. If 2016 ends preposterously with Donald Trump president-elect, no one will deny that would make him the undisputed Person of the Year.