One of the quintessential moments of the 2012 presidential campaign came at a Mitt Romney event in Elk Grove, Illinois, where the candidate was praising “the entrepreneurial spirit.” The Republican specifically talked about Jim Liautaud, who struggled in school, but who borrowed some money from his father, created a sandwich business, and ended up with 1,200 Jimmy John restaurants across this country.
For Romney, this was clear proof that Americans “don’t need the government” to get ahead. Individuals, the Republican said, simply need to “look to themselves and say, ‘What can I do to make myself better?’”
The part of the story that Romney conveniently overlooked is the fact that the hero of the tale succeeded because he had a father with money to invest. Others may also have “the entrepreneurial spirit,” but if they come from a struggling family, living paycheck to paycheck, it doesn’t much matter if they “look to themselves and say, ‘What can I do to make myself better?’” They won’t have the seed money to start their own enterprises and pursue their own ventures.
It was a tone-deaf moment for the GOP presidential candidate, which, three years later, another Republican candidate has taken to an even more absurd level.
During a town hall on NBC’s “TODAY” on Monday, a woman asked the Republican presidential front-runner if he had ever been told “no.” Trump responded at the event in Atkinson, N.H., “Oh many times,” adding, “My whole life, really, has been a ‘no.’”“It has not been easy for me. I started off in Brooklyn. My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars,” explained the billionaire real estate mogul. “I came to Manhattan and I had to pay him back. I had to pay him back with interest. But I came into Manhattan and I started buying properties and I did great.”
It fell to Matt Lauer to remind the frontrunner for the Republican nomination that a seven-figure loan may be out of reach for most of Americans. Trump replied, “You’re right. But a million dollars isn’t very much compared to what I’ve built.”
And while that’s true, it badly misses the point.
Think about the combination of those two sentences in rapid succession: “It has not been easy for me,” followed two seconds later by, “My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars.”
I don’t fault Trump for his wealth or success, but anyone who has a father who can write a million-dollar check – just to help his son’s business venture get going – doesn’t get to cite this as proof that his life hasn’t been “easy.”
Roughly 99% of the American population – actually, a little more – will never have an opportunity like this. Never. The very idea is so far-fetched that it’s not even a dream.
Trump did “great” getting to home plate after being placed by helicopter on third base – and then receiving a personal invitation from the catcher to steal home whenever he found it convenient.
And while that’s terrific for him, and I don’t begrudge his success, the question for candidates for public office is explaining how they intend to create opportunities for those who didn’t have the foresight to choose wealthy parents.