Several years ago, I caught a few episodes of a BBC reality show called “Faking It.” The idea was pretty straightforward: the show’s producers would take a person with no background in a given profession, put him or her through a crash course of lessons and training, and then have him or her try to fool a panel of experts while competing against rivals who actually knew what they were doing. Surprisingly, the contestants would sometimes do pretty well.
Watching Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talk about Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, it occurred to me we’re all stuck in one long, occasionally excruciating episode of “Faking It” – better known as the 2016 presidential election.
Consider this comment from McConnell on CNN yesterday:
“We have an obligation here in 2016 to see if we can turn this country around. And the primary voters have selected Donald Trump to be the change agent, and what we’re trying to do is to get him to act and speak like a serious presidential candidate.”
Note, it goes without saying – in McConnell’s case, literally – that Donald Trump isn’t a serious presidential candidate. He’s not going to become a serious presidential candidate. He will never be a serious presidential candidate.
But what Republican officials are “trying to do is to get him to act and speak like a serious presidential candidate.”
In other words, in this elaborate episode of “Faking It,” GOP officials are the coaches putting an amateur through a crash course before he has to compete with an actual presidential candidate who knows what she’s talking about. A panel of experts – i.e„ the American electorate – awaits.
McConnell’s comments yesterday weren’t the only example, either. Note, for example, that the Senate Majority Leader, asked about Trump’s overt racism towards a federal judge, publicly urged the Republican candidate on Tuesday, “Get on message.”
McConnell didn’t say, “Get a moral compass,” or “Stop being racist.” Instead, the message was, “Get on message.”
Or put another way, “Fake it more effectively.”
In yesterday’s interview, McConnell added, “I think it’s still time for [Trump] to begin to act like a presidential candidate should be acting.”
We’re not accustomed to hearing calls like these in a presidential general election because, in every modern cycle, presumptive major-party nominees didn’t have to be told to “act” like a real presidential candidate because they already were real presidential candidates.
The idea of one of the nation’s most powerful federal policymakers telling a national television audience he’s “trying” to get his party’s presumptive nominee to “act and speak like a serious presidential candidate” has never happened before because it’s never been necessary before.
Donald Trump, however, is … special.
Postscript: It’s worth noting that this episode of “Faking It” had a prequel of sorts called the Republican presidential primaries, in which Trump also competed against rivals who had experience Trump lacked. In this case, however, the panel of experts – GOP voters – weren’t necessarily fooled; they just didn’t care.