Back in the 80s, Rodney was one of my junior English students. He wasn't the smartest kid in the class by a long shot, but he tried, and he was a pretty decent, friendly guy. One day he walked into class a few minutes early wearing a T-shirt I hadn't seen before. "Ozzy for President!" he shouted, proclaimed the words written across his chest. He flashed me a big grin and strutted to his desk.
Rodney was more of a head banger wannabe than the real thing, but it wasn't hard to imagine him in his room listening to Black Sabbath cranked to full volume and shouting along with its lead singer Ozzy Osbourne.
Rodney sat down and leaned forward, elbows on his desk. He looked at me with a serious expression and said in all sincerity, "Really, wouldn't it be cool if Ozzy was president?" I looked back at him, amused, but didn't respond. More students filtered into the room, so I had other people to attend to. Our political discussion was at an end.
Donald Trump isn't Ozzy Osbourne. The Donald has significantly more working brain cells than the man who later played the pathetic clown on his family's reality show, The Osbournes. And Ozzy is British, so a presidential run was always out of the question. But a lot of Trump supporters are grown-up versions of my old student Rodney.
Rodney and I never talked about Ozzy's political future again, but I'm pretty sure what his answer would have been if I had asked him, "If Ozzy was really running for president, if there was really a chance he'd be leading the United States of America, would you vote for him?" He would have replied something like, "Well, no, probably not . . . But wouldn't it be cool if Ozzy was president?" I have a sense many proud Trump supporters, when confronted with the idea of actually voting for their man, will say the same.
The media loves to focus on Trump's most impassioned supporters, those who praise the man and his ideas with gusto, often repeating the bile that comes from Trump's mouth with such pure hatred, directed toward Muslims and immigrants and Obama and "PC Liberals," that even The Donald might raise his eyebrows with concern—or would have in the past, anyway, before those folks became his base. But there are plenty of others at his rallies or watching at home who are less passionate but are having a great time listening to him. His speeches resonate in their innards the way "dangerous" music taps into receptive listeners' ids. But they aren't so completely consumed with the man and his message that they're willing to follow him to the ends of the earth, or even all the way to the polling booth. When it comes time to vote, many of the hangers-on are likely to put their marks next to another candidate's name while muttering, "Yeah, but wouldn't it be cool if Trump was president?" Since lots of them are occasional voters at best, a good portion of the Trump supporters will just sit this one out like they sit out other elections.
When the primary votes are tallied, I expect Trump's numbers will be far lower than the polls suggest. It might not happen in the early primaries. The general elections may be too distant for people in the first few primary states to connect their votes with the idea of their chosen candidate sitting in the Oval Office deciding the fate of the nation and the world. But at one point, Trump's support will start to crumble, and once that starts, there will be no stopping his downward slide.
But what do I know? I could be completely wrong. Most of the professional pundit class on both sides of the political aisle have assumed Trump would be out of the picture by now, and I've agreed. But pundits' conversion to seeing Trump as a likely Republican presidential nominee doesn't mean they've finally got it right this time. It could just as easily be another instance of them getting it wrong, of jumping on the polling bandwagon and assuming Trump's present popularity will continue through the primaries, and I may have it right this time. If I'm wrong and Trump-mania continues all the way to the Republican convention, feel free to remind me how badly I misread the conservative political scene. I'm notoriously bad when it comes to predictions. But if I got it right, you can bet I'll be referring back to this post and saying, "See? I understand the Rodneys of the world."