When Rep. Lou Barletta emerged as the victor in the Pennsylvania Senate Republican primary on Tuesday night, it was widely observed that voters had gone with someone who was “Trump before Trump.” And for good reason. Barletta has backed some characteristically Trumpian proposals, such as his effort, as the mayor of Hazleton, to make English the town’s official language.
And yet, if Barletta (1) is a proto-Trumpian politician, what does one make of his fellow Pennsylvania Republican, House candidate Rick Saccone (2), who once declared, “I was Trump before Trump was Trump.” Can two Pennsylvania Republicans both be the incarnation of the president before the president was the president? And if so, how about three? Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial nominee Scott Wagner (3) was declared by the Pittsburgh Tribune to be “Trump before Trump” as well.
It is a testament to the degree to which Trump has taken his place at the center of the political universe that so many Republicans in Pennsylvania seems to want to adopt his image as their own. But Keystone State politicians are only the latest crop of wannabes to use the moniker.
Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (4) was “Trump before Trump” when he ran last year. Rep. Claudia Tenney (5) has been deemed one herself during her re-election campaign. Current Senate candidates Chris McDaniel (6), Joe Arpaio (7), and Corey Stewart (8) have pitched themselves as “Trump before Trump.” Just-failed Senate candidate Don Blankenship (9) was described as—you guessed it— “Trump before Trump.”
Before this cycle, others occupied the role of the president’s forebearer. Chris Christie (10) was called “Trump before Trump” because of his brashness (his lieutenant governor, current NJ secretary of state Kim Guadagno , has also earned the title). Jeff Sessions (12) was considered “Trump before Trump” because of his views on immigration. So too was former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (13).
Newt Gingrich (14) was called “Trump before Trump” for….. some reason.
Rudy Giuliani (15) was “Trump before Trump” because he likes media and is a Republican from New York. Sarah Palin (16) was “Trump before Trump” because she was known as a populist simpleton. Mike Huckabee (17) was “Trump before Trump was Trump” because, as he put it: “a lot of the things that he’s saying, those are things that, in many ways, I’ve been saying those for eight years.” Ted Cruz (18) was pitched to voters as “Trump before Trump was cool” while former Rep. Joe Walsh (19) insisted that people came up to him to say “Joe, you were the local Trump before Trump.”
Paul LePage (20) was considered “Trump before Trump” because, well, he’s Paul LePage and yeah, the analogy works so F*&% OFF!
And if you dare question why LePage should earn that title let us introduce you to former congressman Michael Grimm (21) who will “break you in half like a boy” if you challenge his one-time labelling as a “Trump before Trump.” Being un-PC, indeed, seems to be a trait that gets you dubbed a “Trump before Trump,” which may be why failed gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino (22) has also earned the title.
But even some decidedly un-Trumpian Republicans have been saddled with the label. John McCain (23) and Darrell Issa (24) have all been dubbed “Trump before Trump,” the latter courtesy of former president Barack Obama.
Nor is the title limited to currently serving—or even living—politicians. George H.W. Bush (25), Lyndon Johnson (26), William Jennings Bryan (27), Barry Goldwater (28), George Wallace (29), Huey Long (30), Ross Perot (31), and Pete Wilson (32) were all deemed “Trump before Trump.” The more vaunted “Trump before Trump was Trump” title was reserved for two men in particular: Pat Buchanan (33), who ran a prototype Trumpian presidential campaign, and Jesse Ventura (34), once nearly launched a presidential bid alongside Trump.
Even some liberal Democrats have earned the “Trump before Trump” title, such as former Sen. Harry Reid (35).
All of which raises the question: Who, actually, was Trump himself before Trump was Trump?
“He is a hybrid,” Sam Nunberg, Trump’s former aide, told The Daily Beast. “I would say, politically, he plays Reagan but he is really Nixon and Bill Clinton with a dash of Ross Perot. And I think the big influences on him are Roy Cohn, Roger Stone, his father, [PR giant] Howard Rubenstein, Vince McMahon, Don King, and Howard Stern. But at the end of the day, it is really just him. He’s a unique guy. There is only one of him.”
With such a wide-swath of influences in Trump’s life, perhaps it’s not at all surprising that prominent media personalities have also been dubbed “Trump before Trump” figures.
Laura Ingraham (36) is one Fox host that has earned that title. Lou Dobbs (37) is another. Andrew Breitbart (38) was remembered on the anniversary of his death as “Trump before Trump.” And Breitbart’s protege Steve Bannon (39), who helped elect Trump during the 2016 election, was described as “Trump before Trump” for creating “the political philosophy and the political army in waiting that has been the engine for the candidate’s astonishing rise.”
Even MSNBC host Chris Matthews (40) has been called “Trump before Trump” though no explanation was offered as to why.
Being “Trump before Trump” isn’t a domestic phenomenon. The cliche stretches across the globe. France’s Marine Le Pen (41), Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi (42), Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu (43), India’s Narendra Modi (44), Japan’s Shinzo Abe (45), Russia’s Vladimir Zhirinovsky (46), Switzerland’s Christoph Blocher (47), Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez (48), Hungary’s Viktor Orban (49), Canada’s Stephen Harper (50), Argentina’s Carlos Menem (51), and Great Britain’s Enoch Powell (52) have all been described, at various junctures, as “Trump before Trump.”
It was perhaps inevitable that the infamous late Toronto mayor Rob Ford (53) would also earn the “Trump before Trump” honorific. RIP.
Tired of this list yet? In Trump-before-Trump-ian fashion, we give you MORE.
How about reality TV star Jim Bob Duggar (54), Italian proto-fascist author Gabriele D’Annunzio (55), New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (56), Cincinnati sheriff Rick Jones (57), and one-time Delaware House candidate Fred Cullis (58)? All of them, Trumps before Trump.
So which one of the 58 is most accurately described as a Trump precursor?
“None,” says Nunberg. “It is like saying who was Tom Cruise before Tom Cruise or who was The Rock before The Rock?”
Trump, he added, borrowing a quote from Roger Stone, “is a giant among pygmies.”