In its 60-year history, the New Hampshire presidential primary has never been short of storylines. Comedians, cowboys, and curmudgeons have hustled for votes from Hinsdale to Pittsburg alongside governors, senators, and sitting vice presidents. We’ve had Ed Muskie’s tears, Bill Clinton’s comeback, and Reagan’s microphone. Yet with all that personality, it’s hard to find a character that quite measures up to Donald Trump.
Last Tuesday, Trump made an “announcement,” and let’s face it, with The Donald, it could have been anything from turning Seabrook station into a world class golf resort to buying the Yankees and relocating them to Delta Dental Stadium on the Merrimack River. As it turns out, he’s running for president.
For Trump, it doesn’t matter. He sits in one of the most enviable positions imaginable: He owns the resources and name identity to carry out a presidential campaign, with no real downside to losing. Running a race to win — and placing your employment status or political career at risk — is difficult. So difficult, in fact, that in any given cycle there aren’t that many people willing to take on the challenge. But running a race where both the chance of winning and the risk of losing are zero — that’s easy.
It’s a task for which Trump’s entire life seems to have prepared him.
Whether he’s talking about the Miss Universe Pageant (which he owns — financial disclosure value of $14 million) or the renovation of Florida’s Doral Resort, Trump lives in a world of superlatives: always “the most exclusive,” “the most beautiful,” or “the most incredible.” His headline promise? “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created!” That certainly touches all the bases.
To his credit, The Donald knows TV, which remains the mainstay of American politics. His soundbite laden speech made for great theater, not least of all when he cut off a recording of Neil Young’s rising guitar riffs with a trademark hand chop. It was as if he were impersonating Saturday Night Live’s Darrell Hammond impersonating Donald Trump. But buried within were the kind of rhetorical flourishes that appeal to a cadre of independent-minded New Hampshire voters that in the past turned out meaningful numbers for the likes of Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan.
Don’t be distracted by the Big Apple headquarters or Broadway show tunes soundtrack. As a consummately American product, The Donald inevitably reveals a little something about ourselves. His poll numbers may be modest, but, at 3 or 4 percent, Trump could probably do just as well running as a Democrat. A wide swath of Americans are tired of the endless political jargon that flows from Washington and the consequences the country has suffered at the hands of a uniquely inexperienced president. They yearn for leaders who are direct — event blunt — who are willing to go off-script, and who have a record of success.
True, we should hope to find these qualities without the self-absorption, crazy lines, and reality TV — and very well may yet do so. But for now, relax and enjoy the show. In New Hampshire, no one is really taken aback by the spectacle. We know that for all of the primary’s success, it has always provided its share of humor. Sure, Trump flirted with a presidential campaign five different times in the past 20 years, but he still can’t hold a candle to comedian Pat Paulsen, who was on the ballot so many times that most people lost track. “Yeah, I’m running for president again,” Paulsen once dryly noted. “Well, it’s not a run, really; it’s sort of a brisk walk.”
Walk on, Donald. Walk on.
John E. Sununu, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, writes regularly for the Globe.