"Some people," as Barry Switzer famously declared (rather oddly for a football coach), "are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple." And then there's Donald Trump.
Inheriting a $250 million fortune built by his father on government loans and housing contracts, Trump fell close to the family's corporate welfare tree. He now claims a net worth in the billions and cultivates the myth that he is a "self-made man."
His version of the story doesn't mention the government subsidies, the "too big to fail" debt (continually restructured by bankers who feared going down with him if he defaulted) or the multiple business bankruptcies.
So there stands The Donald on third base, hamming it up for the cameras and periodically awarding himself MVP trophies. Home plate, he's now decided, is the White House.
I have to hand it to the guy. Anyone who can go bust four times running casinos — casinos, for the love of Pete! — then suggest, with a straight face, that he's the man to bring fiscal responsibility and business acumen to Washington, deserves credit for sheer chutzpah.
Perhaps his descent into xenophobic rant is an attempt to distract attention from the weak "self-made man" narrative. Or maybe he's a Democratic mole. Either way, he's bad news for Republican prospects in 2016 and beyond.
Trump's claim that a disproportionate percentage of Mexican immigrants are "criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc." seems custom crafted to cost the Republican ticket double digit vote percentages.
The first problem with his assertion is that it's flatly false. As syndicated columnist Steve Chapman points out in Reason magazine, Mexican immigrant populations in the U.S. correlate to lower, not higher, violent crime rates. "If Trump wants to avoid rapists, here's some advice: Head for areas with lots of residents who were born in Mexico."
The second problem is that he's throwing a bomb, fuse lit and hissing, into the GOP's attempt to solve its voter demographic problem. White males (the party's "base") are a shrinking proportion of the electorate. Hispanic voters, on the other hand, are growing in number.
Smart Republicans understand this. At least three candidates — Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush — hope to move in at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. on the strength of significant Hispanic support.
There's a tightrope between the GOP's opportunistic devolution into Know-Nothingism since the days of Reagan and George H.W. Bush (who competed in 1980 for the title of "most open borders candidate") and an appeal to immigrant voters and their families.
And there's Trump, doing unicycle stunts on the tightrope, jostling the other performers' elbows, forcing the PR choice between supporting him, slamming him or trying to ignore him. It's a long way down and the ground below is very hard. Choose carefully.
The Republican Party has two possible political futures: In one, it gets libertarian on immigration. In the other it gives up its hopes for the White House not just in 2016, but for the foreseeable future.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).