Let’s assume for the moment that the Trump presidential campaign is a legitimate political movement rather that what many professional observers believe it to be, a disturbing version of reality programming where every episode is deliberately contrived to manipulate the audience.

The assumption that his campaign is genuine would make this Thursday’s Republican debate among presidential aspirants particularly crucial to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpReturn hope to the Middle East by returning to the Iran Deal Government shutdowns tend to increase government spending 'Full Frontal' gives six-bedroom house to group that works with detained immigrants MORE because he needs to retreat from the understandable perception among Hispanics, one of the most significant voting blocs in the United States, that he is an unrepentant racist.


Let’s also assume that based on his skill at marketing and branding his name from cornerstones to collar shirts that Trump can read statistics. He must know that a survey of U.S. adults by Pew Research Center found that dealing with the issue of illegal immigration places a lowly 17th on a list of policy priorities among American voters.  He must also know that the majority of Hispanics in the United States are native born. Of the 54 million people in 2013 who identified themselves as of Hispanic or Latino origin, only 35 percent, or 19 million, were immigrants, which means the number of potential Hispanic voters is enormous.

So based on the stark numbers that would tell any rational campaign that you can’t win a national election without securing at least a portion of the Hispanic vote there is clearly something else at work in the mind of candidate Trump.  For New Yorkers who have watched his cynical, bombastic style over the past forty years the answer becomes self-evident. No one is better at manipulating public desire for the outrageous showman than Trump.

So his attack on Mexican immigrants was little more than a diversion to our nation’s dark side of sullen prejudice and bigotry. What his presidential “campaign” has really done is tap into the media’s need to feed their audience with entertainment and the need to remain relevant in the daily lives of their readers, viewers, apps or whatever digital platform from which they may be getting their daily dose of news and information.

While the other presidential candidates ponder foreign policy positions, economic platforms, blue-red state equations, Trump is creating an entertainment machine, dreadful to view yet amazing to watch at the same time. It would be akin to watching Adlai Stevenson and P.T. Barnum debate the merits of Bretton Woods monetary policy. Suckers are invited to put their money down on who will win that sideshow while P.T. rakes in cash from those foolish enough to buy their admission tickets.  

There is a cautionary tale in the Trump candidacy. In his racist stereotyping of Mexican immigrants, his cunning, manipulative use of the media, duping them into being co-conspirators that sell the fiction of candidate Trump, and in his macho appeal to “Making America great again,” he is creating a road map for some future demagogic candidate who actually wants to be president.  The irony of course is that history reminds us that there was such a candidate who used those exact tools to win at the ballot box in Europe some 80 years ago. 

It didn’t end well. 

Mejias is chairman and past president of the Long Island Hispanic Bar Foundation and the first Latino elected as a Nassau County legislator.