In 1938, W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel had a popular radio program, exploded onto the political scene with no experience. He proved to lack any governing ability, had secret wealth and secret relationships with political interests that diverged from the interest of his supporters and his election as the governor of Texas led to political paralysis. This may sound very familiar in 2017.
He explained why he was running and the response was perfect for a people distrustful of government, “Them!” Grover Gardner’s voice growls in Robert A. Caro, in the Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol 1. It was the reason a radio commentator and flour brand icon gave to describe his own political origin. W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel would later become the only man to ever beat Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) in an election, preventing LBJ from going to the Senate for a time. But in 1938, Pappy was coming out from behind the microphone because 54,000 letters had urged him to run for governor of Texas to, “throw them, -‘the professional politicians’ out of Austin.”
No one can say America wasn’t warned of what was happening in 2016 (Besides the July reports that the Russian Federation was actively interfering in the American election), in February, Jesse Walker, a books editor for Reason Magazine wrote of the similarities between 1938 Pappy O’Daniel and candidate Donald Trump. Walker wrote: “The Texas press didn’t know what to make of Wilbert Lee ‘Pappy’ O’Daniel, the eccentric businessman, broadcaster, and bandleader who plunged suddenly into the Democratic primary during the state’s 1938 gubernatorial race. They certainly didn’t expect him to get anywhere. He had no political experience.”
“They certainly didn’t expect him to get anywhere. He had no political experience” -Jesse Walker on Pappy O’Daniel, Reason Magazine
While it became clear that Trump paid for the right to claim he wrote “The Art of the Deal” when ghost writer Tony Schwartz broke his silence- campaigning heavily against the presidential candidate. So ashamed was Schwartz for his part in creating the myth of Donald Trump that he donated his $55 thousand dollar royalty check. Having used ghost writers before, it seems ironic that “Crippled America” (which was later re-titled) seems to have been ghost written by Pappy O’Daniel himself:
“The politicians who talk a great game in campaigns and play like total losers when they try to actually govern because they can’t govern; they don’t know how.” In 169 pages Trump lays out his “blueprint for how to make America Great Again.” The book reveals hints at the priorities of Mr. Trump. There is a color photo spread (even in the paperback): 10 family photos and 11 glamour shots of Trump properties. Instead of adding an index to the back of the book so readers can quickly research particular subjects important to Mr. Trump, instead there’s a list of Trump branded properties. He included 11 lines in “acknowledgements,” but more than 13 pages in “about the author.” Is there any wonder, the boastful, self absorbed millionaire declared, “I alone, can fix it” in acceptance of the Republican nomination for President of the United States.
Pappy O’Daniel didn’t have a visual medium like television where he could sit at a prop boardroom table and judge D-list celebrities, but he dominated Texas airwaves with a folksy radio program where he could first hawk someone else’s flour and then his own brand of flour-which he never actually produced. Daily, Pappy would use his auditory charisma to become a statewide household name. Co-opting state pride-O’Daniel, who was born in Ohio, lived and worked in Kansas before transplanting (to become a “carpetbagger”) in Texas sang songs and wrote poetry about God and the Lone Star State. O’Daniel rose to marketing management at Burrus Flour Company leading him to become a radio star that parlayed his fame into branding flour produced by Texas mills and collecting what Caro called, a healthy profit for himself.
Pappy came up with a stroke of marketing genius to increase his brand awareness in Texas and grow his profit margin: He’d run for governor of the great state of Texas, but, as David Martin Davies said in his promo video for the article, “O’ Daniel, Where Art Thou? The Radio Flour Salesman, “The problem was: he won.”
Donald Trump didn’t move from a different state to grasp at fame and fortune. He went from Queens to Manhattan. Two completely different worlds housed within the city of New York. Taking outrageous risks with his father’s money and then his own, all in an effort to be accepted by the wealthy families in the Manhattan real estate market. Using incredibly large, unsecured loans and mob connections, Trump built a split reputation. One reputation created in popular culture with things like: an appearance on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous., hosting two Wreslemanias for the World Wrestling Federation in the 80’s, even appearing in a softcore porn film for Playboy. He cultivated a persona of a “blue collar billionaire” but the evidence suggested he was neither, blue collar, or a billionaire.
The other side of Trump was rarely seen in public. He used fake personas to plant stories in New York tabloids, he spitefully destroyed architectural treasures he promised to save and his financial dealings around the world put him in business with crime families in New York and abroad. He acted as an insecure, spiteful man-child who valued revenge as an important business component. Author David Cay Johnston, followed Trump’s career for nearly 30 years and his book, “The Making of Donald Trump” outlines how the Wizard of Trump Tower really pulled the levers to get where he is today. It reads like a collection of articles ranging from the petty to the scary. How Trump avoids paying taxes and how he associates with some of the previously mentioned criminal elements. Of course, as I type, the American Intelligence community and Congress are investigating his (and his associates ties) to the multi level, advanced cyber attack that the Russians conducted on the 2016 campaign to help elect him.
Pappy O’Daniel also had secret relationships that helped him win his race for governor. According to Caro’s research, O’Daniel had deep connections to Texas oil. As a candidate he ran on impossible promises but as a governor he was inept. He had no idea how to govern a state and no interest in learning.
The good news for people leery of Donald Trump making broad effective change during his, hopefully brief time in office, Pappy O’Daniel served two terms as Texas governor and is famous for two things: getting votes and accomplishing nothing. His promise of giant increases to government funded pensions had no chance of becoming law and neither does Trump’s Muslim band. To readers, I recommend focusing on elections between now and November 2018 if you disagree with Trump’s vision of America. The real chance for wide spread changes in public policy lie in the Congress and state legislatures now that the Attorney General’s office is held by Jeff Sessions. Turn your resistance into votes.