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A Story About Presidential Clowns

On comedians, politics, and dangerous times

Alec Baldwin as President Donald J. Trump on 'Saturday Night Live' on February. (Image: NBC)

Oh had our simple Eve
Seen through the make-believe!
Had she but known the
Pretender he was!
— Ralph Hodgson, Time, You Old Gypsy Man

Who’d have thought it would come from Ukraine? That is a country that has been in various stages of turmoil for many years. It is hard to believe it would provide the inspiration for, and answer to, the question that has perplexed many Republicans contemplating the prospect of the 2020 elections, without a plausible candidate to challenge Donald Trump in a primary. The inspiration offered by Ukraine comes in the form of Volodymyr Zelensky.

As recently as one month ago, few people outside the Ukraine had heard of Mr. Zelensky. He is a 41-year old Ukrainian comedian-actor, and star of the television sitcom, Servant of the People, a show that has aired in Ukraine for the last three years.

Servant of the People is a story about a modest school teacher who becomes an exemplary president of Ukraine, living a life as president without all the trappings that normally accompany that position. In the plotline, he takes advantage of his position to rid the country of corrupted and deceitful bureaucrats, or, as we like to say in the United States, he “drained the swamp.”

The success of Servant of the People was such that Mr. Zelensky, having gotten an albeit fictitious taste of what it was like to be president, (but liking the flavor) decided to try for the real thing. On January 1, 2019, he announced that he was running for president, and began campaigning in earnest to achieve his goal. Shortly before the election, in a debate with the incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko, he said: “I’m not a politician. I’m just a simple person who came to break the system.” He was more successful than he might have anticipated. The election took place on April 21, 2019. To the surprise of many, Mr. Zelensky handily defeated the incumbent, Mr. Poroshenko, who had been president since 2014.

Mr. Trump, like Mr. Zelensky, is completely unqualified to be president. According to one recent poll, many Republicans would like for there to be a primary challenger to Mr. Trump in 2020, and Mr. Zelensky’s victory has given them heart. Nonetheless, as this is written, only one person has announced his intention to challenge Mr. Trump in the 2020 election on the Republican ticket-William Weld.

Mr. Weld was the governor of Massachusetts almost 30 years ago. As governor he did not get the kind of experience that being on a television show in the Ukraine pretending to be president gave Mr. Zelensky, or that being on a television show in which you fire people, gave Mr. Trump. Furthermore, having been out of public sight for many years, Mr. Weld has neither name nor facial recognition that would help him in a primary against Mr. Trump.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, there is one reason for those looking for a primary opponent for Mr. Trump to take heart. That is because, waiting in the wings, there is someone, until now unidentified, who could prove to be a formidable challenger to Mr. Trump in a primary contest. With Mr. Zelensky as a role model, this person has all the qualifications needed for a successful challenge to Mr. Trump. It is someone who has, like Mr. Zelensky, been on television repeatedly pretending to be president during the last two years. The person who fits the bill perfectly is the well- known actor, Alec Baldwin.

In addition to many other roles he has played over the years, Mr. Baldwin has assumed the mantle of the presidency on repeated occasions on the popular network show, Saturday Night Live. Although Mr. Baldwin’s appearances have always consisted of mimicking the real Mr. Trump, he has done this for more than two years and, in playing that part, has acquired at least as good an idea of what it is like to be president of the United States as Mr. Zelensky got by pretending to be the president of Ukraine. Of course, Mr. Baldwin was not required to be as creative in his portrayal of the president, as Mr. Zelensky had been in creating the fictional president of the Ukraine since he was simply mimicking various things that Mr. Trump had been doing in the intervals between Mr. Baldwin’s appearances on the show.

As one considers Mr. Baldwin’s prospects in a primary, it is important to note that Mr. Baldwin has one significant advantage in a competition with Mr. Trump that Mr. Zelensky did not have in his competition with Mr. Poroshenko. Although Mr. Zelensky won by a landslide, it was not because people confused him with Mr. Poroshenko. He won on his own merits.

If Mr. Baldwin portrays himself in style and manner in primary debates with Mr. Trump, as he does in his appearances on Saturday Night Live, there is an excellent chance that many of Mr. Trump’s less sophisticated supporters will be confused as to which of the candidates is the real Donald Trump and, in their confusion, may vote for Mr. Baldwin by mistake during the primaries. That would be unfortunate for Mr. Trump. It would be fortunate for the rest of us.

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Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. He can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com

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