It was the day the Republican Party fell apart and it opened with the Open Letter on Donald Trump from GOP National Security Leaders – “We the undersigned, members of the Republican national security community, represent a broad spectrum of opinion on America’s role in the world and what is necessary to keep us safe and prosperous” and they’re unhappy. Rob Crilly explains that unhappiness:
More than 50 conservative foreign policy experts have added their weight to the growing campaign to stop Donald Trump, with a letter condemning the billionaire businessman as unfit for the White House. They predict his aggressive stance on trade would spell economic disaster and that his anti-Muslim rhetoric would undermine efforts to tackle violent Islamic extremism.
The signatories – who include Robert Zoellick, a former president of the World Bank, and Andrew Natsios, former head of USAID – pull no punches, describing the Republican front-runner as “fundamentally dishonest” and a “racketeer”.
“Mr Trump’s own statements lead us to conclude that as president, he would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe, and which would diminish our standing in the world. Furthermore, his expansive view of how presidential power should be wielded against his detractors poses a distinct threat to civil liberty in the United States.”
The letter was signed by politicians, diplomats and military figures who describe themselves as committed and loyal Republicans, but who say they cannot support a party ticket with Mr Trump at its head.
They have their problems with the guy:
They savage his plan for a wall with Mexico, saying it will inflame passions, and add that his admiration for Vladimir Putin ill-befits a man running to become president of the US.
“His vision of American influence and power in the world is wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle. He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence,” they say. “His advocacy for aggressively waging trade wars is a recipe for economic disaster in a globally connected world.”
“His embrace of the expansive use of torture is inexcusable.”
And no one noticed, as this was going on:
The calamity brought upon the Republican Party by Donald Trump was laid bare Thursday by its two most recent presidential nominees, who delivered unprecedented denunciations of the candidate that set the stage for a raucous evening debate.
Mitt Romney awoke from his political hibernation to deliver a sweeping, point-by-point indictment of Trump – of his policy proposals, his business dealings, his erratic judgments, his moral character, and his insults to women, Latinos and the disabled. The former GOP nominee, who sought and accepted Trump’s endorsement in 2012, implored Republicans to now reject the billionaire he labeled “a phony” and “a fraud.”
All in all, it was quite a day:
It began at sunrise in Palm Beach, Fla., where Trump phoned into network television shows to mock Romney as a failed politician. Then, in Salt Lake City, Romney gave his speech asserting that Trump was a danger to the nation and to democracy itself; in Washington, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) shared in the dismay; in Trenton, N.J., Gov. Chris Christie called a news conference to insist he was not a prisoner of Trump’s; and in Portland, Maine, Trump rallied fans by demeaning Romney with crude language.
Romney did his thing:
“Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud,” Romney said. “He’s playing members of the American public for suckers.”
Romney, himself a onetime business titan worth hundreds of millions of dollars, sought to rub away at Trump’s golden sheen.
“His bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who work for them,” Romney said. “Whatever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there’s Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks and Trump Mortgage. A business genius he is not.”
Romney said the president helps define the values and principles of the United States for the world and sets an example for young Americans. He asked his audience of roughly 700 students and other guests to ponder Trump’s “personal qualities” – “the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics.”
Then the big guy with the orange hair did his thing:
Trump fired back with a verbal tirade a couple of hours later at his Maine rally. He bemoaned Romney’s “nasty” critique and dismissed him as a “choke artist” who, in Trump’s assessment, botched an easy chance to turn President Obama out of office.
Trump recalled his endorsement on Romney in February of 2012, describing the candidate as yearning for Trump’s stamp of approval.
“He was begging for my endorsement,” Trump said. “I could’ve said, ‘Mitt, drop to your knees,’ and he would’ve dropped to his knees. He was begging. True. True. He was begging me.”
Few missed the implication of that last bit – Suck on this, Mitt! It was pure male dominance. Trump didn’t address the accusations of dangerous bullshit and buffoonery. Trump was more of a man than Mitt. Mitt was his bitch. Yeah, everyone got it – but Mitt has a plan:
Mitt Romney has instructed his closest advisers to explore the possibility of stopping Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention, a source close to Romney’s inner circle says. The 2012 GOP nominee’s advisers are examining what a fight at the convention might look like and what rules might need revising.
“It sounds like the plan is to lock the convention,” said the source.
Romney is focused on suppressing Trump’s delegate count to prevent him from accumulating the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination. But implicit in Romney’s request to his team to explore the possibility of a convention fight is his willingness to step in and carry the party’s banner into the fall general election as the Republican nominee. Another name these sources mentioned was House Speaker Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate in 2012.
Romney did not endorse Rubio or Cruz or Kasich in his lovely evisceration of Trump – he told Republican voters to vote for any of those three in the remaining primaries, just not Trump – which would deny Trump a clean nomination but leave those three with not many delegates each. And then there’d be him at the late-summer convention in Cleveland. He or Paul Ryan might be useful at that point. Trump would be angry and storm out. Trump’s supporters might storm out. But the party would be saved. The country would be saved. And the Republican vote would be split by Trump as a third-party candidate and Hillary Clinton would win it all – he didn’t mention that.
This was what they call a hot mess, and then the day ended with another debate:
Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, fighting for their political lives, relentlessly demeaned and denounced Donald J. Trump at Thursday’s debate, all but pleading with Republicans to reconsider nominating a candidate with a long history of business failures, deep ties to the Democratic Party and a taste for personal insults.
Warning that Mr. Trump would lead the party to a historic defeat in November, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz delivered their attacks with urgency, as if trying to awaken voters who had fallen under Mr. Trump’s spell. Mr. Rubio derided Mr. Trump as untrustworthy and uncivil, while Mr. Cruz bashed him for donating money to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and to other Democrats.
But the debate in Detroit also deteriorated at times into the kind of junior high school taunts that have startled many Republican elders but done little to dent Mr. Trump’s broad appeal.
Yeah, it was junior high:
During a clash about Trump’s business practices, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) attacked Trump for driving a slew of his businesses into the ground.
“Ever heard of Trump steak or Trump vodka?” Rubio said. “Take a look at Trump steaks. Trump steaks is gone. You have ruined these companies.”
Trump fired that those attacks had come from Romney earlier in the day and had been short sighted.
“Mitt Romney comes up with things totally false,” Trump said. “Now the funny thing is he didn’t talk about the hundreds of really successful jobs. The buildings all over the world that have made a fortune. He doesn’t talk about that. “
Fox News Host Chris Wallace was trying to refocus the raucous debate back to policy.
“I have a policy question for you, sir,” Wallace said.
“Let’s see if he answers it,” Rubio chimed in before it turned into a total schoolyard war of words.
“I will. Don’t worry about it, Marco. Don’t worry about it,” Trump said to an applauding crowd. Don’t worry about it, little Marco, I will.”
“Let’s hear big Donald,” Rubio said.
“Don’t worry about it, little Marco,” Trump said.
Wallace exhausted by the exchange finally broke in.
“Gentlemen, you have got to do better than this,” Wallace said.
Yeah, says who? There was also this:
Donald Trump responded to a jab Marco Rubio has made about the size of Trump’s hands – a line widely interpreted to be a reference to Trump’s manhood – by promising that when it comes to the size of “something else,” he guarantees “there is no problem.”
“He hit my hands. Nobody has ever hit my hands. I have never heard of this. Look at those hands. Are they small hands?” Trump said at the Fox News GOP debate Thursday. “And he referred to my hands if they are small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee you.”
And then he whipped it out. No, he didn’t – but that’s what Mitt Romney was on his knees sucking, four years ago. It was that kind of debate, including this gem:
Donald Trump reiterated in Thursday’s Fox News GOP debate that he had no issue with waterboarding — a practice regarded by many legal and military experts as torture – and that he favored going “tougher than waterboarding.”
“They then came to me, what do you think of waterboarding? I said it’s fine. If we want to go stronger, I’d go stronger, too,” Trump said. “Frankly, that’s the way I feel. Can you imagine these people, these animals over in the Middle East that chop off heads, sitting around talking and seeing that we’re having a hard problem with waterboarding? We should go for waterboarding and tougher than waterboarding.”
The statement came after a question about a letter signed by 100 military leaders saying they would not support Trump, and an assertion by former CIA Director Michael Hayden that the military may refuse to follow orders that were illegal.
“They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.”
He added the obvious too – “I’m a leader. I’ve never had any problems leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”
Yeah, he’s a real man, but there was this:
Megyn Kelly wanted to set the record straight Thursday night about Trump University, a business that promised to unlock the secrets of Donald Trump’s success for ordinary people but which is embroiled in a class action lawsuit for not making good on its promise. Trump argued passionately that the Better Business Bureau had given his “university” an A, but Kelly took him on.
“The rating from the better business bureau was a “D” minus, the last publicly available rating – in 2010. It was the result of a number of complaints,” Kelly said.
Trump claimed that “it was elevated to an “A,” but Kelly affirmed “That’s never been publicly released.”
“Let’s bring the viewers up to speed,” Kelly said. “Let me set the record then you guys can have at it. Trump University, a business that you started, and it was marketed to many people and now there is a class action of over 5,000 plaintiffs against you, Mr. Trump.”
Trump tried to jump in.
“The lead plaintiff is now getting out of the case because it’s so bad for her,” Trump said.
Kelly fought Trump back about the merits of his case.
“Okay. Stand by. What happened in that case was you countersued her. The court threw out your countersuit, made you pay legal fees of hers.”
Trump interrupted again, but Kelly kept going.
“Stand by. This is what the court of appeals found. They said that the plaintiffs against you are like the Madoff victims.”
“Give me a break,” Trump said.
“What the court of appeals said,” Kelly started again. “They found victims of con artists sing the praises of their victimizers until they realize they have been fleeced.”
Yeah, the court of appeals explicitly compared him to Bernie Madoff. Megyn Kelly reports, you decide, and there was this:
Fox News host Chris Wallace on Thursday grilled Donald Trump at the Republican presidential debate, telling the real estate mogul that the numbers in his tax plan didn’t add up and displaying Trump’s plan side-by-side with the facts to prove it.
Wallace asked Trump what he would cut under his tax plan in order to reduce the nation’s deficit.
“Department of Education. We’re cutting Common Core. We’re getting rid of Common Core. We’re bringing education locally. Department of Environmental Protection. We are going to get rid of it in almost every form,” Trump said. “We’re going to have little tidbits left, but we’re going to take a tremendous amount out. We have various other things. If you look at the IRS – if you look at every single agency, we can cut it down and I mean really cut it down and save.”
“But Mr. Trump, Mr. Trump, your numbers don’t add up,” Wallace protested. He then instructed the producers to display a graphic with a fact check and went through the items Trump had mentioned.
“The deficit this year is $544 billion,” Wallace said. “That’s more than a half trillion dollars. Your numbers don’t add up, sir.”
Seemingly out of nowhere, Trump said that pharmaceutical companies “don’t bid properly” and are wasting “hundreds of billions of dollars.”
“Excuse me. You are talking about hundreds of billions of dollars,” Trump said.
And so on and so forth, leading to Josh Marshall’s assessment of this mess:
This was the first GOP debate where I saw them make Donald Trump bleed. I really don’t know whether he ‘won’ or ‘lost’. I suspect his support is too ingrained at this point to be easily shaken. But this time Rubio and Cruz and mainly the moderators knocked Trump off his stride.
It’s not a matter of catching him in some logical contradiction or baloney answer. That’s happened a hundred times and it’s irrelevant. The issue is that his opponents are sharpening a number of attack lines that are commonsensical, direct and understandable: the scam of Trump University, importing foreign labor for the ‘short season’ at Mar-a-Lago. It’s hard for him to smack people down on these attacks with a single broadside.
In part it’s because these attacks are simple and understandable enough that he can’t bank on people not knowing the details of the question or why the underlying substance might be important. People are also used to Trump’s style by now. They’re not silenced by the first rhetorical wallop. More than anything, though, everybody on the stage tonight, including the moderators, but with partial exception of John Kasich, was openly and unabashedly out to get Trump.
That’s hard to fight.
Still, this was too nasty:
Once Trump pulls you down to his level, even when you fight back, you’re still down at his level. And he’s better at this than you are.
There was one point maybe in the third quarter-hour of the debate where Rubio and Trump were basically just yelling at each other. It was very messy. Trump was clearly unable to dominate the stage. And yet, as I watched, I thought: this is not doing Marco Rubio any good. It may be bloodying Trump but not to Rubio’s benefit. They knocked him off his perch a bit but they looked like ridiculous animals wrestling with him on the ground.
But something was different this time:
The other thing I wonder about tonight is the effect of Fox News’ attacks on Trump. Trump’s the frontrunner. His dirty laundry is only now really getting a close look from the press. It makes sense that the moderators would press him more than the others. But it went well beyond that. They were out to get him. No one could watch this debate and not get that. Given how much Trump’s base constituency is driven by resentment against ‘establishments’ and perceived unfairness to themselves and those they support, will this redound to Trump’s benefit? Will it at least not hurt him? I think it’s definitely possible.
I have little doubt that the cross-country exchange with Romney today actually did help Trump. If you’re for Trump, you’re against the establishment and all it stands for. Romney is the establishment wing of the establishment and even the attack itself was fairly feckless. It only confirms Trump’s message. On a stage he owned, a short while later in Maine, Trump mutilated Romney in his response. I’m much less sure this debate helped Trump in the same way.
Well, it was a strange day:
The upshot of the last forty eight hours is that the GOP actually seems to be groping its way toward a strategy of doing anything possible to prevent Trump from getting to the convention with 50+% of the delegates. Just what that gets them isn’t clear and I don’t think they have any idea. They are on the one hand saying he could destroy the party and grievously damage America while still saying they’ll probably support him if he’s the nominee. (Note that Romney nowhere ruled out eventually supporting Trump.) Still that seems to be the emerging plan. You’ll note that Romney wasn’t asking anyone to drop out – quite the contrary. He wants everyone to stay in and use strategic voting to keep Trump from amassing more than half the delegates. With that strategy this debate made perfect sense, a brutal war of attrition meant to grind down an opponent who cannot actually be beaten.
And that calls for a metaphor:
Right now it’s Trump vs the stakeholders of the institutional GOP, represented by Rubio, Cruz and Romney in the wings, like two vast armies wheeling around for a decisive combat over a small town or village. Trump’s army is clearly stronger, but not unbeatable. Whatever happens there’s no way the village doesn’t get brutalized and probably destroyed in the process.
Think back to our adventure in Vietnam in the late sixties. “We had to destroy the village to save it.” It’s like that.
Slate’s Josh Voorhees saw it a bit differently:
It’s hard to see how Thursday night will change a status quo that has proved so favorable to Trump. He was battered by attacks throughout the night – from his rivals and from the moderators – and faced questions about Trump University and what he told the New York Times’ editorial board off the record about his willingness to soften his hardline immigration stance. But similar attacks failed to derail him in the past 10 debates, so it’s unclear why these ones would – especially coming from the same men and moderators who have tried, and failed, to take him down before.
Trump survived the night much how he has before – by playing fast and loose with facts while embracing what would be considered weaknesses in other candidates. When Marco Rubio attacked him for dodging policy questions by lobbing personal attacks, Trump responded with more personal attacks. When Cruz suggested that Trump’s history of donating to Democrats and Republicans alike made him part of Washington’s problems, Trump spun that criticism into proof that he knows how to play the game. And when Fox News’ fact checkers put his past words on screen to prove he’d flipped and flopped, Trump responded with his usual combination of rambling and bluster. It was the same thing we’ve seen before, and it’s the same thing we can expect to see again.
They’re stuck with the guy:
Mitt Romney made it clear earlier in the day that Hail Mary is the only play left in the Republican Party’s playbook. Rubio’s been hyping the brokered convention route for weeks, but Cruz also jumped on board publicly on Thursday. “If you are one of the 65 percent to 70 percent of Republicans who recognize that nominating Donald would be a disaster, then I ask you to come join us,” the Texan said, before combining his four state wins with Rubio’s one. “We welcome you to our team because we’ve demonstrated not once, not twice, not three times, but five separate times we have beat Donald and if you don’t want him to be the nominee, then I ask you to stand with us as a broad coalition of people who believe in the Constitution, believe in freedom, and want to turn this country around.”
Less than an hour later after Cruz’s appeal, the #NeverTrump strategy began to quickly crumble when moderator Bret Baier used the last question of the night to press each of Trump’s rivals on whether they would honor the GOP loyalty pledge they signed last year and support Trump if he is the nominee. To a man, each one said yes.
And the nation laughed, although the New York Times’ Frank Bruni did see hope at the end of this very odd day:
I’m going to play Pollyanna, minus the long blond hair and the bow, and remark on a refreshing development over the last few weeks and especially days. More emphatically and unequivocally than at any recent juncture that I can recall, Republican leaders and standard bearers are saying that their party has no tolerance for any racism, no room for any sexism, no forgiveness for bigotry.
There have always been Republicans, many of them, who felt this way passionately, but they often spoke in muffled voices or chose to keep silent. There were racist, sexist, bigoted voters whom they were all too happy to have. A party needs to reach the 50-percent mark to win elections, and it makes ugly deals and unseemly compromises to cross that threshold.
But disgust with Trump and recognition of the damage that he could do have prompted many of the Republican Party’s stewards to make unwavering statements and articulate principles that they’ll be judged by – and maybe even have to live up to – down the line.
Trump has reconnected them with their soul or rather, if you want to be a cynic, forced them to find one.
Maybe the detour down his pants will amount to something more and better, in the end, than phallic braggadocio.
Well, that’s something, if it’s true. Don’t count on it. The Republican Party just disintegrated.