Donald Trump and Rob Ford: Are these two loudmouth politicians cut from the same cloth?

After flirting with the idea for decades, seems, finally, to be making a serious run for political office. His campaign so far has been full of controversy, but several recent polls show the business magnate and reality TV star leading the field of GOP presidential candidates.

What explains Trump’s inexplicable popularity? For answers, some have suggested we can look to former Toronto mayor , whose own appeal was often a source of wonder. Here are some similarities between the two men’s political careers.

They both come from money

The Donald sometimes paints a picture of himself as a self-made man, but in truth he inherited his father Fred Trump’s New York real-estate empire and built it up into an even greater fortune. Today the TRUMP name graces hundreds of hotels, resorts and casinos around the world and Forbes says the 69-year-old is worth about US$4 billion, although he claims it’s much higher than that.

Ford, who loves nothing more than railing against Toronto’s liberal elites, is also a member of the one per cent. His family owns Deco Labels and Tags, and although the private company does not have to disclose its profits, it’s believed to be worth as much as $100 million.

This financial security has freed both men to pursue political careers. Trump has even made his fortune part of his pitch to voters: since he is already one of the richest men in America, he can’t be bought by special interests.

They say bizarre and offensive things

Many politicians say stupid things, but Trump and Ford have turned it into an art form.

Four years ago, the last time he thought about running for president, Trump became the most vocal “birther” in America, arguing that President Barack Obama was born outside the U.S. and therefore ineligible to be president. The Donald was so persistent the White House publicly released the long-form birth certificate to shut him up.

Although Trump has kept mum about Obama’s birthplace this time around, he was barely through his speech announcing his candidacy before igniting a new controversy with his remarks about Mexico “sending” dangerous immigrants to the U.S.

“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” Trump declared. “And some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump followed those remarks up more recently by questioning the war record of Senator John McCain, who was captured and tortured by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.

“He is not a war hero,” Trump said of the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.

“He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

While the McCain-bashing didn’t go over particularly well, even among Republicans, it showcased one of Trump’s most mesmerizing qualities: his penchant for saying whatever comes into his head with no real forethought. Rob Ford, too, became well-known for shooting off at the mouth, most famously when he denied an allegation that he had offered a staffer oral sex by declaring that he had “more than enough to eat at home.”

Other bizarre episodes include Ford’s remarks on the industriousness of Chinese immigrants (“Those Oriental people work like dogs”) and the belittling of a fellow Toronto Maple Leafs fan at a hockey game when he asked, “Do you want your little wife to go over to Iran and get raped and shot?”


They tap into anger with the system

While few would say that Trump and Ford are particularly sophisticated as policy thinkers, much of their appeal stems from their status as outsiders to the political establishment. They’re wrecking balls, agents of chaos whom voters can at least expect to shake things up.

After speaking to many of Trump’s fans about their support for the billionaire, Washington Post political reporter Chistopher Ingraham said the common theme was anger.

“Anger toward the establishment is a powerful motivating force,” Ingraham writes. “And Donald Trump is currently the candidate in the best position to channel it.”

Ford Nation, as the former mayor’s supporters are known, was also often characterized by rage toward the downtown Toronto establishment that neglected or looked down on suburbia. Much of Ford’s support came from those suburbs, especially from diverse communities that saw little to love in traditional politicians, even as Ford used the n-word and talked about the “f—ing minorities” on the youth football team he coached.

The establishment can’t easily ignore them

Before the crack scandal sullied the Ford brand, the Toronto mayor was a hot commodity among top conservative politicians in . The Fords counted former finance minister Jim Flaherty as a close family friend, and even Prime Minister Stephen Harper sought for a while to associate his federal Tories with the municipal crusader against the “gravy train.” At a 2011 barbecue, shortly after Ford’s strong victory in the mayoral race, Harper made a surprise appearance and spoke in warm terms about a shared fishing trip.

The Republican establishment has also found Trump hard to ignore. In 2012, despite his campaign to unearth Obama’s “real” birth certificate, Trump was nevertheless a sought-after endorsement, which eventual nominee Mitt Romney duly received.

In Trump’s case, it’s not his political constituency necessarily so much as his wealth that gives others pause. In 2012 and in his current bid, Trump has not ruled out a third-party candidacy; although his chances of winning the presidency as an independent are exceedingly slim, he could siphon off enough conservative support to ensure the election of another Democrat. While Trump’s comments about McCain’s heroism have created an opening for other candidates to slam him, given his current popularity, some like Texas Senator Ted Cruz have so far avoided directly attacking him.

The media can’t get enough

Trump and Ford are as much media spectacles as they are politicians, with every new thing they say and do making for compelling drama on the evening news. But to some extent the outsized media attention given to these big personalities may also exaggerate their support. At least in Trump’s case, much of the early poll numbers are worth taking with a grain of salt, especially since they are not particularly rigorous, with the sample size for some surveys as small as 300 people.

Also, as media critic Bob Garfield noted on WNYC’s On The Media radio show recently, at this stage in the contest it’s all about name recognition, and when one candidate also happens to have his gold-plated name on everything he owns, he will have a (temporary) advantage over the career politicians. Just don’t expect it to last.

About Ishmael N. Daro