Yesterday, on "Meet the Press," Donald Trump was presented with a list of characters he'd been compared to: "some people are calling you the Music Man of this race. Kim Kardashian. Biff, from Back to the Future. George Costanza. P.T. Barnum. What's - any of those do you consider a compliment?" Trump immediately said "P.T. Barnum."
ADDED: Who has compared Trump to P.T. Barnum? I found this from way back in April 2011:
As GOP insiders and the conservative base warm to what party veterans see as a “joke candidate” ...Sometimes the joke is on you.
... likely GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich opted for a more theatrical approach....But here's something from the current election cycle, as people were getting a clue that they'd have to take Donald Trump something like seriously. This comes from Salon, last September, by Sean Trainor:
"Well look I think that he is a little bit wild. A little bit... some have compared him to P.T. Barnum and the rise of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. He is one of the great showman of our lifetime. He is very clever at getting news media attention. And he’s in his “Apprentice” candidate phase. That’s fine. He brings a level of excitement and life — a lot more folks will talk about the Republican ticket in the next few weeks because of Donald Trump. I’m all for him being an active Republican, then at some point he’s got to settle down…But for the moment it’s a bit like watching American Idol. We have the newest guest star."
Donald J. Trump is not, as Matthew Pressman argues in the Atlantic, Ronald Reagan’s heir. Rather, he’s the heir of the 19th-century showman Phineas Taylor Barnum – disingenue extraordinaire and purveyor of humbug (that quaint, old-timey synonym for bullshit)....Hey, this is really good! Read the whole thing. I can't excerpt it all.
This is what makes Trump Barnum-esque: the fact that viewers are invited, implicitly, to decide whether Trump actually means any of what he says. Can a man really love himself as much as Trump? Does he truly think that “bombing the hell” out of ISIS will fix the quagmire in Syria and Iraq? Can he seriously believe that the Mexican government will agree to pay for a border wall? Does he honestly expect that he can negotiate a better nuclear deal with Iran through sheer boardroom finesse?
Scholars have called this the “operational aesthetic”: a kind of spectacle in which the conversation surrounding the show becomes the show itself. And it was pioneered by P.T. Barnum in the decades prior to the Civil War, long before the showman became a senior partner in the Barnum and Bailey Circus....
Barnum understood why his audiences came. And so, time and again, Barnum returned to the public with a litany of spectacles that tested the boundaries of spectators’ belief (while also, at times, exploiting white patrons’ racism): Joice Heth, an elderly African-American woman who he told viewers was the 161-year old nurse of George Washington; William Henry Johnson, an African-American man from New Jersey who Barnum claimed was a “missing link” between humans and apes; and even a hairy horse that he tried to pawn off as a living fossil....
Whether Donald J. Trump is conversant in the finer points of P.T. Barnum’s career and entertainment philosophy remains, for the moment, an unanswered question. But it nevertheless seems clear that, intentionally or otherwise, Trump has mastered Barnum’s “arts of deception,” as scholar James Cook calls them: the ability to invite publicity by inviting doubt....
[A]mong the bulk of Trump’s supporters, I would wager that a more ironic appreciation prevails: a fascination that stems, not from his earnestness, but from the opposite. Sure, many conservatives likely approve of what he’s saying. But if that alone explained his support, Republican voters would have little reason to prefer Trump’s misogynistic, sabre-rattling, xenophobia over that of his opponents. No, his support comes not from his substance but from his style: a delicious disingenuousness after 16 years of George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s deadpan sincerity (unperturbable, even when either has been peddling lies).