If you’re thinking of dressing up as one of Donald Trump’s surrogates for Halloween — and excluding Trump himself, what could be scarier? — the challenge you’ll be facing is that most Halloween getups are exclusively visual. But this one requires audio. It won’t be enough to look like the simultaneously gangrenous and rabid corpse of a formerly sort-of-mainstream Republican politician (the Rudy Giuliani version) or a subway loon fresh from a shoplifting spree at Barney’s (the Katrina Pierson model). A spooky Jon Voight or Curt Schilling mask won’t do the trick either.
To really Brando the role of Trump surrogate, you’ve got to babble. You’ve got to keep gnawing the odiferous foot the GOP’s nominee wedged in your mouth in July — February, if you’re unlucky enough to be impersonating Chris Christie — and spit out mangled surprises along with random bits of The Donald’s short toes.
Anytime straight-faced falsehoods won’t do, invent meth-head rationalizations, spurious analogies, and WTF changes of subject to defend the indefensible, from birtherism and Muslim-bashing to Pussygate and Donald’s problematic man-on-spy Putin love. Or else just cop to the fact that you’re in Strawberry Fields, where nothing is real; as campaign manager Kellyanne Conway indignantly — and immortally — protested when quizzed on CNN’s The Situation Room about her boss’s threat to jail Hillary Clinton if he wins, “You’re taking it literally.”
In case you haven’t figured it out, you won’t get any candy. Odds are you wouldn’t have wangled much witching-hour swag even before that famous Access Hollywood tape turned simpering Billy Bush into the final member (let’s hope) of his astoundingly second-rate family to play a role of any consequence in a presidential election. But that’s OK. Your Trump-defending TV counterparts aren’t really out to lure votes anymore either, at least not from anyone sane. If what they’re doing is spinning, lately it’s been the kind Linda Blair’s cranium perfected in The Exorcist.
From the worst of them (Rudy) down to rank amateurs at their 15th minute of infamy like Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, whose claim that “real Americans” didn’t care about The Donald’s tax returns prompted CBS’s normally gracious Bob Schieffer to school her about the difference between opinion and evidence, Trump’s media stooges — or should that be droogs? — are patently uninterested in converting voters who don’t already share their jack-o’-lantern worldview.
That’s one more measure of how this splatterfest campaign has turned standard political playbooks into so much one-ply toilet paper, and the curiosity is that their priorities can’t be explained away by blind loyalty to the Alpha Cheeto. Except for his own kids — vampiric Eric, Sopranos wannabe Donald Jr., Garbo-envying Ivanka — none of Trump’s current bobbleheaded advocates had any prior allegiance to the man. Poor, humiliated Christie even ran against him, if you can call that befuddled sashay of his last winter running, before divining what the Hindenburg could do for an encore.
More reminiscent of an untended KitchenAid mixer about to vibrate itself right off the counter, Giuliani’s fanaticism is the major mystery here. Saddened admirers — the people who bought into yesterdecade’s now all but forgotten “America’s Mayor” horse hockey — lament that he’s trashing his legacy. Even though un-saddened non-admirers could care less about the demise of that particular Post-it note, they’re equally bemused by Mr. 9/11’s eagerness to swap the boredom of elder statesmanship for the excitement of morphing into Old Yeller.
Of all of Trump’s bobbleheads, Rudy is the one least likely to try tamping down the candidate’s latest outrage. He thrives on hailing them instead, out-Donalding even The Donald sometimes. Trump only called himself “smart” for dodging paying taxes, but Giuliani topped that lapse into relative modesty by saying it proves Trump is a genius.
Rudy also looks reekingly delighted with himself when he’s spewing this smegma, which is not only disturbing but makes him stand out from the pack nowadays. Christie, who doesn’t even get invited much to champion Trump anymore — that oversize dunce cap is too distracting — is just a glum prisoner of his miscalculations. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, another bobblehead regular, is playing so many Cheshire-cat double games for his own amusement that he can function as an unctuous booster and a perverse saboteur at once. (Gingrich’s malicious division of the candidate into “Big Trump,” someone he claims to admire, and “Little Trump,” who he thinks is “pathetic,” can only have enraged the Donald, whose sensitivity about the size of his one-eyed snake notoriously exceeds his sensitivity to the feelings of potential snake handlers.) But Giuliani exults in his own nihilistic, off-the-rails creepiness. It’s as if his secret Breakfast at Tiffany’s drag name back when a bewigged Rudy was letting Don nuzzle his frock in 2000 was Holly Gauleiter.
Meanwhile, Trump’s female surrogates — so weirdly interchangeable in their Veronica Lake coifs, their combative lips always slightly ajar as their eyes helplessly telegraph brain-fry — could be auditioning by now for an all-woman band called The Stockholm Syndromes. Out of genuine dismay or plain panic, Conway dropped out of sight for something like two whole days — an eternity in news-cycle terms — after her boss’s groper-in-chief tape went public, provoking a flurry of rumors that she might quit the campaign. But she’s back on board, apparently — just not back on TV, at least not as much as she used to be.
Then again, unlike fellow blonde Trump flacks Scottie Nell Hughes and Kayleigh McEnany — and, of course, the egregious Corey Lewandowski, who used to have her job — Conway isn’t actually on CNN’s payroll. Compared to any of them, Conway — who’d clearly like another, less Bizarro World gig once the Alpha Cheeto implodes — seems to be showing a belated interest in rebranding herself as the normal one, like Marilyn Munster. Sitting for an inside-scoop New Yorker profile printed three weeks before Election Day is a dead giveaway.
Someday, we’ll look back on all of them with wonder: Pierson’s bullet necklace and invention of the “armrest defense”; Giuliani’s foam-flecked tirades and convention bark of “Greatness!”; McEnany’s demure bewilderment whenever other talking heads snicker at her for elevating double standards into a dummkopf art form; even Schilling’s avowal that he ogles his own daughter and her friends plenty and so there’s nothing wrong with the Donald sizing up a preteen girl as a future date. Every candidate for president brings kindred spirits out of the woodwork, but just as there’s never been a candidate like Trump, there’s never been anything quite like his cavalcade of bobbleheads — who duplicate his every facet in mosaic form, from narcissism and gleeful hostility to cluelessness and run-amok fibbing. In the unlikely event he wins, the whole country will be in Halloween costume year-round.