The rhetorical standoff between Donald Trump and Bill and Hillary Clinton reveals what you really need to succeed in politics.
Not only can this one attribute help get you elected president. It could make it possible for you to be regarded as one of the great political savants of our time. Someday, folks might even call you a “natural.”
It’s not what you have that matters most: money, smarts, likability, debate skills, academic pedigree, compelling life story, solid organization, dedicated volunteers, ability to communicate, etc.
What really carries weight is what you don’t have. The most valuable quality that one needs to be successful in politics is a lack of shame.
In Spanish, we call it being a sin verguenza – literally without shame.
In the political arena, if you can’t be embarrassed, you can go far. When you’re running for office and you can do what you want to do, and say what you want to say, without holding your tongue or worrying about what people think, that’s a powerful weapon. You can swing wildly, and not hold back.
In a profession where politicians usually don’t dare say what’s really on their mind because they’re afraid that people will think less of them for it, having the ability to raise unpleasant subjects will make you stand out. You'll be seen as bold and refreshing.
Bill Clinton has this gift. He bounced back from the Monica Lewinsky scandal when a mere mortal would have resigned in disgrace and retreated from the spotlight. Given the salacious material that wound up in the final report prepared by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, it’s hard to imagine how any public figure could survive. Most normal people would want to dig a hole, crawl into it, and then pull the hole in after them. Yet Clinton didn’t budge, because he didn’t seem to care what anyone else thought of him.
And Trump certainly has this gift. The GOP front-runner has no shame, and he flaunts it every time he opens his mouth. He demonstrates it through his willingness to go where others fear to tread and say what others are thinking but aren’t willing to say. Trump likes to brag that he takes on touchy subjects such as illegal immigration from Mexico or whether we ought to deny visas to Muslims. And he claims that he has been proved right in suggesting a get tough approach.
Not exactly. It’s not that Trump is right in what he’s saying. Much of it is abhorrent or incorrect. But Trump does have a knack for courageously raising important issues that need to be addressed.
Now the billionaire blowhard has done it again by raising the question of whether Ted Cruz is really a natural-born citizen and thus eligible to serve as president under the Constitution. Cruz’s critics, including supporters of Marco Rubio, insist that the Texas senator, who was born in Canada to a mother who was a U.S. citizen, is more accurately described as a “U.S. citizen born abroad.”
You can bet that Cruz supporters despise Trump for bringing this up. You can also bet that Trump doesn’t care. Whether they’re on the right or the left, the real estate mogul doesn’t need people to love him. He loves himself enough for everyone.
Meanwhile, Democrats are loving that the GOP is going through its own birther drama. It’s poetic given the ruckus that many Republicans – including Trump – kicked up for years by questioning Barack Obama’s citizenship.
But Democrats aren’t so thrilled about what Trump has to say regarding the Clintons. After all, Hillary has some nerve accusing Trump, or any other man, of treating women disrespectfully. Did she sleep through the 1990s? People who choose to live with a serial philanderer accused of sexual harassment and worse ought not to throw stones.
The left is going ballistic, insisting that what it delicately refers to as the former president’s “indiscretions” should be off-limits.
That’s absurd. Here’s the real issue: Do Americans really want Bill Clinton back in the White House, with nothing to do and time on his hands?
The Clinton campaign doesn’t really want to run against Trump. And the Clintons are certainly no longer eager to get into a morality contest with the Republican over his treatment of women. Because you can never be sure what he is going to say.
After all they’ve been through, and put other people through, the Clintons know shamelessness when they see it. And they respect its power.
Reach Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.