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Is Donald Trump Charles Foster Kane in disguise?

Donald Trump, "Citizen Kane" scholar.

"It's him! He's here!" In "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" (1990), a breathless corporate minion announces the arrival of Daniel Clamp, a Manhattan entrepreneur suspiciously similar in name, arrogance and love-to-hatefulness to the man currently leading the polls among 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls.

John Glover plays the character based on Donald Trump. When the "Gremlins" sequel came out, Trump was essentially a figure of fun, a brash joker with a bankroll this big, a symbol of capitalist greed run amok, just as the gremlins themselves ran amok. (At one point Clamp crams a pint-sized adversary into a paper shredder.) The notion of Trump as potential leader of the free world, rather than an Atlantic City casino figurehead, was a long way off.

And now it isn't.

There is a simple reason for Trump's lead in the polls. He is the candidate with the most experience playing a fictional character on television and in the movies. That fictional character is called Donald Trump, who may or may not resemble Donald Trump, private citizen. The difference doesn't matter. It's election season, and he's doing a fine job playing the guy trying to fire everybody else.

Because of his heightened celebrity stoked by the reality-adjacent TV series "The Apprentice," Trump is a known, merrily malignant quantity to millions. He's the guy who relishes a good downsizing, one loser at a time. He's the guy who seems extremely comfortable on camera. This is Trump's strongest connection to Ronald Reagan, former actor, two-time president. But Reagan was folksy, or could play folksy; Trump, by contrast, is more like a rich, white, bling-laden rapper who somehow came through four corporate bankruptcies smelling like a rose.

Trump's present success on the campaign trail has provoked some astonishing comparisons. In a recent interview, actor Owen Wilson likened Trump to Charlie Sheen's crazy-man phase. "He's answering a question completely honestly, and in an entertaining way. You sort of feel he could be a character from 'Network,'" Wilson said.

The Trump jokes won't quit and so far they haven't made a dent. On Twitter, where Trump likes to hang out and heckle his adversaries while thanking his supporters, he has been compared to Adenoid Hynkel, Charlie Chaplin's Hitler knock-off in "The Great Dictator."

Many commentators have noted the similarities between Trump and Biff Tannen, the boorish would-be rapist of the "Back to the Future" trilogy. In the second movie, Biff becomes a wealthy, casino-owning monster with hair and an aura than can only be described as Trumpy.

The most telling movie parallel, however, came from Trump himself. Years ago in an interview with filmmaker Errol Morris, for a documentary project that never reached completion, Trump spoke of his love for the film "Citizen Kane," the story of a famous and influential man who liked, as Kane himself put it, "to buy things."

At one point the newspaper magnate played by Orson Welles appears to have the New York State governorship locked up. "Until a few weeks ago," Kane thunders, "I had no hope of being elected. Now, however, I have something more than a hope … Every straw vote, every independent poll shows that I will be elected." But Kane's gubernatorial and White House ambitions are derailed by infidelity, and by bullying his political rival, "Boss" Jim Gettys.

On camera, in the Morris interview, Trump turns uncharacteristically solemn talking about Kane's downfall. "It's not necessarily all positive," he says of Kane's soullessly acquisitive life. Wealth, he acknowledges, "does in fact isolate you from other people."

Then Morris asks Trump: What would you advise Kane if Kane were a real person? "Get yourself a different woman," Trump replies, going for the gag, and reducing a great film's ambiguities to a story of a high flier laid low by the wrong dame. There's another bit of dialogue from "Citizen Kane" I keep thinking about this summer of Trump. "I don't suppose anybody ever had so many opinions," reflects Kane's old friend, Jed Leland, played by Joseph Cotten. "But he never believed in anything except Charlie Kane."

mjphillips@tribpub.com

Twitter @phillipstribune

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