On November 7, 2017, New Yorkers flocked to the polls to vote for their mayor after an electoral process marred by a familiar sight: the presence of a political outsider characterized by vulgar language, name-calling, racism, and irrational yelling. “Wild Man” Bo Dietl, known more for his promotion of Arby’s roast beef than his political activism, did his best impersonation of President Donald Trump throughout the New York City mayoral election: Dietl refused to follow rules, squabbled with moderators, disputed given facts, and even left his podium to adjust an opponent’s microphone during a debate. Dietl, much like Trump in the beginning of the Republican primary, was not taken seriously by political pundits and voters—unlike Trump, however, Dietl ultimately lost the election. Still, the former NYPD officer’s dramatic loss should not be written off as an insignificant failure. It appears Trump’s loud, insulting, outsider archetype has created a new monster—one that could very well be the newest threat to American politics.
The Political Outsider: A Brief History
Trump is certainly not the first outsider to seek the election of a high political office. Ross Perot, Jesse Ventura, and Arnold Schwarzenegger are all famous examples of politicians who previously worked in industries far from politics. As outsiders, their mere histories served as symbols for institutional reform, an important issue to Americans losing trust in political institutions, and their messages, regardless of party, often included elements of the need for change.
From bodybuilders to comedians and from wrestlers to actors, one would assume such outsider candidates would reveal colorful personalities plentiful in unorthodox political behavior. And, although it would be unreasonable to say that these candidates acted just as any other politician—Schwarzenegger was the first politician to refer to the politicians of the opposing party as “girlie men”—historically, each outsider candidate conformed to the norms of American politics.
Schwarzenegger, for example, acted like a true governor despite his nontraditional background by sponsoring and drafting real policy, taking responsibility for failures, and even appointing Democrats in order to make the government more bipartisan. Likewise, former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), a former actor and moviestar, made a name for himself as a politician by touting his fearlessness to speak his mind and vote for what he believes.
Although the broad idea of deviation from the political norm also characterizes Trump, Trump is fundamentally different from other nontraditional candidates. He spreads messages of distrust, racism, and discrimination rather than positive change, most recently revoking immigration protections for approximately 200,000 Salvadorans. His disregard for general respect and inability to accept and answer to criticism—even from his own side of the aisle—hurts the American political system.
Trump, is an outsider’s outsider, and his behavior is not an improvement. Copycats, including Dietl, should not be taken lightly. One is an example, two is a coincidence, three is a trend, and America is showing signs of a dangerous tendency.
Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice
On the campaign trail, Dietl imitated Trump with frightening accuracy. Just as Trump created critical nicknames for his rivals, such as Lyin’ Ted, Crooked Hillary, and Little Marco, Dietl not-so-affectionately refers to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as “Big Bird,” mocking the stature of his 6’5” opponent. Dietl, a former cop and security consultant turned actor and TV personality, also boasted of his income, taunting his opponents and using the figure as the measure of his success just as Trump touted his massive net worth on the campaign trail. Lastly, Dietl used derogatory insults—such as calling de Blasio’s head of the Department of Corrections Mike Ponte a “nincompoop”—just Trump referred to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) as a “dumb mouthpiece.”
In addition to mirroring Trump’s childish antics, Dietl also employed many of Trump’s more alarming tactics, including appealing to mass xenophobia. In a since-deleted tweet—a Trumpian form of communication—Dietl posted a picture of Mayor de Blasio posing with headscarf-wearing activist Linda Sarsour and asked if New York could trust de Blasio on homeland security. Later, Dietl questioned the bias of a judge presiding over a case she was deciding because of her race—just as Trump had done with a federal justice of Mexican heritage—comparing the ethnicity of this judge to Mayor de Blasio’s wife. Finally, Dietl frequently criticized the press for “twisting his words,” an attack in the same vein as the now-popular phrase “fake news.” Dietl therefore remains one such example of an attempt to replicate Trump’s surprising campaign success.
Three Is a Trend
Luckily for America, and unlike Trump, Dietl did not throw New York City into a political revolution. After consistently polling in a distant third behind the major party candidates, Dietl finished even lower than anyone would have expected. Receiving less than one percent of the vote, Dietl finished a remarkably distant sixth—last, except for Libertarian Aaron Commey, who 17 years prior attempted to hijack an airplane with a gun and knife before being admitted to a mental health facility.
Still, America should be cautious to label Dietl as an unimportant failure and Trump as a fluke. A candidate has now plainly tried to replicate Trump’s strategy, and although unsuccessful, Dietl will not be the last. Numerous politicians that are ardent Trump supporters have championed his churlish styles and phrases, and some may continue to do so. Instead of writing off Dietl as an epic failure to be lost in the history of poorly performing candidates, Americans should see the overwhelmingly strong rejection of Dietl as a success attributed to the voters of New York. Their example must be followed when the next Trump impersonator steps to the plate and throws their hat in the ring. The political outsider will always be a part of American politics, but Trump’s version is an entirely different beast. In the new Trumpian age of politics, perhaps there is nothing wrong with politicians a little more like The Governator.
Image Credit: Flickr/PENCIL