Donald Trump is Max Bialystock. Let me explain.
(Note: During the writing and editing of this blog, Tom Scocca brought to my attention that New Republic editor Jeet Heer has been riffing on a Trump-as-The Producers theory on Twitter for a while. I suppose it’s nice not to be alone, but Jeet shoulda taken it to Kinja.)
In Mel Brooks’s 1968 classic The Producers, Bialystock (portrayed by Zero Mostel) is a corrupt and fraudulent showbiz, uh, producer, who hatches a scheme to make money by failing on purpose. Aided by accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), he suckers investors into purchasing 25,000 percent of an upcoming production; the plan is to stage, on the cheap, the absolute worst possible Broadway show, one guaranteed to be shut down on opening night, a failure so total and unmistakable that no one will think to expect even one cent of return on their investment. In order for the plan to work, the show must be not only bad, but actively repellant, as offensive as it possibly can be; if it succeeds (in bombing historically), it will ruin Bialystock’s reputation forever, but by then he and Bloom will have absconded to Brazil to live like kings off all the excess funding they swindled. The result is an insane, utterly sincere Nazi musical titled Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden—which audiences mistake for a brilliant satire of the Third Reich, sticking Bialystock with a hit production he can’t abandon and investors who expect to reap profits he cannot possibly deliver.
That’s Donald Trump! For a year he has wielded his presidential campaign like a can of bug-spray aimed directly into the eyes of the voting public, but no matter how hateful or absurd or offensive or repulsive his behavior, no matter how uninformed his proclamations, no matter how flimsy and terminally contradictory his blatantly spitballed policy positions, a steady core of voters—one large enough to topple the entire Republican establishment and deliver him the nomination—simply will not abandon him. In fact, the more ludicrous he gets, the more vehemently they support him, the more loudly they insist he not only can but must become the President of the United States!
He can’t slough them off. Just in the last week or so, he’s called a dead soldier’s grieving parents terrorist sympathizers; he’s implied that sexual harassment is something weak-willed women bring upon themselves; he kicked a baby out of one of his rallies; he berated fire marshals for doing their job; he claimed the general election is already rigged against him; he ate KFC with a fork and knife. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, has scarcely had to appear in public since the final night of the Democratic National Convention; she could be in federal witness protection right now for all I know. By God, Donald Trump is determined to bomb his way out of this thing ... but his supporters will not let him.
I do not want to seem to let Trump off the hook for the awfulness of his campaign by framing it entirely as a work of kayfabe. I am sure that, down in his little charcoal heart, he believes (as much as he is capable of believing anything other than that he should have what he wants) the vile shit he says; he surely is just as much a bigot and misogynist and authoritarian and narcissist as he seems. But in American politics, presenting more-or-less accurately as the craven, unscrupulous horror you are, rather than as a bland, featureless totem of leaderly virtue, is pretty radical! It’s supposed to not work, in electoral terms at least. The entire Donald Trump campaign was premised on the idea that it would be good television and bad electoral politics; he was supposed to have cashed out of this thing with an inflated personal brand more than six months ago. But here he is, 96 days from the election, having cruised past all the campaign’s built-in points of egress atop a wave of support this whole dang thing was designed to plummet safely beneath long before the Iowa caucus.
So. Donald Trump is Max Bialystock. It’s the best theory I’ve come across so far. But if he’s Max Bialystock, who’s Leo Bloom? Who’s Franz Liebkind, the deranged Nazi playwright whose sincere work Bialystock insincerely gets behind? Help us cast this thing, down in the comments.
(I think we all know who’ll be playing the rapturous audience.)