If you’re running for office anytime soon, or if you currently hold office or are a “public figure,” please try to keep one thing in mind: So far, the only person to prove he can thrive by talking like President Donald Trump is ... President Donald Trump.
Trump, and only Trump, can insult a war hero because the man was captured by the enemy, joke about grabbing women by the unmentionables, accuse an opponent’s father of participating in a plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy, and still be elected to the highest office in the land.
Trump may have even been right when he joked during the campaign, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
But don’t even think of trying this at home. The president’s election was not a permission slip allowing everybody to now say the most outrageous things that come to mind. Trump changed the rules last year for himself, not anybody else – at least not yet.
Say something stupid and the media – both news and social – will whack you good, and it won’t turn out nearly as well as it did for Trump. If anything, the climate right now seems more hostile than ever to saying silly things in public.
Earlier this month, Joe Favia – an unopposed candidate for an Arlington Heights village board spot – had to drop out of his race after posting something on Facebook. After the national women’s marches in January, he posted a meme that read: “In one day, Trump got more fat women out walking than Michelle Obama did in 8 years.”
Again, he was an unopposed candidate. You don’t usually get a more sure thing in politics than an unopposed campaign. Not for that dude.
Danville Township Assessor Rick Rohrer, a Democrat, posted the very same meme to his Facebook page, and the chair and treasurer of the Vermillion County Democratic Party were so furious that they both resigned.
Just last week, the sports anchor for the most-watched television station in Chicagoland, Mark Giangreco, was slapped with a weeks-long suspension for tweeting something about the president and his supporters: “America exposed as a country full of simpletons who allowed this cartoon lunatic to be ‘elected.’”
Also, have you seen Governor Bruce Rauner lately? The formerly elbow-throwing, defiant Republican frat jock is now talking like the dearly departed host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
I seriously doubt that Rauner naturally morphed from a tough guy who has called just about everybody – from judges to the two state legislative leaders to most of the General Assembly – “corrupt” into a soft-spoken yogi who gently speaks of compromise, peace, and harmony.
Rauner’s campaign team has the cash to poll-test and focus-group just about everything, and the governor is infamous for relentlessly staying on script. He and his people obviously know things have changed.
So when probable Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker woke up early one morning last week and, according to an aide, decided to mock the far right’s incendiary rhetoric by tweeting, “As a protest against Trump’s rescinding protections for trans kids, everyone should use the other gender’s bathroom today! #protecttranskids,” he should’ve first taken a deep breath, had another cup of coffee, maybe called a friend or two, and then realized he was about to make himself look like just another billionaire who can’t control himself on Twitter. Please leave the jokes to the professionals (who, by the way, are regularly put through the public meat grinder for their misfired attempts at humor).
I’m not arguing here for an utterly bland, completely “politically correct” public discourse. I’m just arguing for a little common sense and a bit of self-awareness. Calling some women “fat” worked for Trump, but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna work for low-level candidates and elected officials. Insulting millions of Americans and questioning the nation’s electoral system also worked for Trump, but it is a no-go for a TV talking head.
And appearing to urge men to enter women’s restrooms as some sort of protest shows exactly zero common sense, no matter what the climate may be right now and no matter how well-intentioned the act may have been.
If you can’t restrain yourself a little on social media, delete your account.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and CapitolFax.com.