Donald Trump: The Floyd Mayweather of Politics

The latest column from Matthew Dowd.

ByABC News
August 17, 2015, 3:58 PM

— -- After having spent the whole weekend in Iowa in and around the State Fair, as well as talking to folks in Texas, where I live, and with voters in Detroit area, where I was born, I have come to at least one insight about Donald Trump. Donald Trump is the Floyd Mayweather of politics. Hear me out here.

If you look at all the interest and excitement surrounding Trump's entrance in this race, the coverage dealing with his daily utterances, the forgiveness of his fans for mess ups, and the way he manages his brand, it is eerily familiar to the prize fighter Floyd Mayweather. From the brandishing of their logos on everything, Mayweather having the ubiquitous caps emblazoned with the Money Team to Trump's Making America Great Again, they each have an ability to capture part of our culture and market themselves exquisitely.

Many react to their bravado and the “in your face” attitude by saying "isn't that over the top" or too much, but folks run to be around them or near them or buy their expensive tickets to fight night. Both Mayweather and Trump are essentially some of the best salesman and showmen on the planet. And their extreme wealth isn’t off-putting to regular folks, but an attraction. They both have an intuitive understanding of the entertainment world that many respond to in America today. Would we want Mayweather to be our father or our spouse? Most would say definitely not. But we watch his fights and talk about him when he does something outlandish.

Do we want Donald Trump to be leader of the free world and are we prepared to vote him into office as President of the United States? I don't know, and this is his biggest obstacle ahead. He can get the crowds and the attention, grab the media, ensure that we are all talking about him, but in the end are voters ready to give him the keys to the White House? Much will depend on him and his growth in the course of the campaign, and much will depend on us. Yes, we are attracted to his no-holds-barred strength and unapologetic ways he stands, but do we prefer seriousness to selfish in our leaders?

The question in the end for any leader is how does one use celebrity, wealth or their ability to capture popular culture, or instinctual sense of what the public responds to. Does the person use it merely for an ego driven self-aggrandizement, or to get even richer, or as a way to manifest power for its own sake in some narcissistic attention-seeking mode? Or does the person want to use it for good to take the country and our communities to a better place? To bring us together to move forward and to make us feel better about each other and ourselves? To solve the huge problems that confronts our world?

People forget that Nelson Mandela was a celebrity when he got out of prison. He was exceedingly good at drawing a crowd, and capturing the attention of thousands of people. He also had a great grasp of political strategy and what would move people in the culture, and how to win. But his intention with all this power was to move his country to a better place. To heal the wounds of a divided South Africa, and breathe a bit of compassion through strength into our world. And that is what authentic well-intentioned powerful leaders do. They know what is popular, but they seek the positive. They pick the everlasting values that endear us over pure ego and the emotions that electrify and entertain us.

This is what great leaders of the world have done -- like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and even presidents like Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy. They understood popular culture, political strategy and the art of entertainment, but used their power to build with the best of intentions. Can Donald Trump become this type of leader? I don't know and have some serious doubts. Right now he is much more akin to Mayweather than MLK.

Will someone emerge in this presidential race who understands all that and calls us to a higher purpose? Will a candidate show us both strength and compassion, pride in our country, make us feel safe and stand tall in an uncertain world, that we can trust and who says it like it is without political speak, and build up the new institutions we need as the old crumble? I have hope and faith someone will grow into this over the campaign. And I have confidence the voters will respond.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.