The question on the eve of April Fools’ Day this year was whether Donald Trump was finally self-destructing, but he’s been fooling everyone since June 16, 2015, when he “announced” – and that day said those Mexicans pouring across our border were rapists and murderers and drug dealers. You know how those people are. It should be boxcars to the borders for all eleven million of them, right now. Then he said John McCain is no war hero and no Muslims should be allowed in here, because they hate us, and so on and so forth – it’s been one thing after another, mostly insulting women, and his poll numbers keep going up. Now, nearly fifty percent of all Republicans think he should be their nominee, although that number is dropping a bit.
That may not matter. The alternative is Ted Cruz. He’s a nasty fellow and everyone who has ever worked with him hates his guts. John Kasich is hanging on too, but he’s both too eccentric and too ordinary. As a congressman and now a governor he knows how to get things done, and does get things done – boring within-the-system stuff that excites no one – while his talk is loose and happy and a bit goofy. He won’t do. He’s merely qualified and competent. He’s as far right as any of them, but he smiles too much. He’s just not angry. He doesn’t want to be. He picked the wrong year to be pleasant and reasonable. Republicans got their fill of that with Obama. They hated it.
That leaves Trump, but the New Yorker’s John Cassidy notes that Trump has just had a week that could spell doom for him:
His initial refusal to condemn his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who was accused of manhandling a female reporter, Michelle Fields, and lying about what happened, was wrong – but it was also in line with Trump’s policy of never conceding anything or apologizing unless he absolutely has to. For a time, the facts of the incident, which took place after a press conference at one of Trump’s resort properties in Jupiter, Florida, were disputed, and Trump could hide behind the pretense that this was case of “he said, she said.”
After Tuesday, when police in Jupiter charged Lewandowski with battery and released a security video that showed him grabbing Fields’s arm and turning her around, the situation became very different. (Lewandowski denies the charges.) Practically any other candidate would have fired Lewandowski, or at least severely reprimanded him; said sorry to Fields; and tried to move on. Far from doing any of these things, Trump sought to deny the evidence provided by the video. Not only that, he defended Lewandowski’s actions, on the grounds that Fields might have represented a physical threat to him. “She had a pen in her hand which the Secret Service is not liking because they don’t know what it is, whether it’s a little bomb,” he said on CNN.
This reaction didn’t just make Trump look deluded, sexist, and cowardly – it provided his political enemies with more ammunition to use against him. “No ambiguity @realDonaldTrump is trying to justify violence against women: defenders of domestic/work violence can use Trump talking points,” Stuart Stevens, a former adviser to Mitt Romney who is part of the Never Trump movement, tweeted on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, Stevens was still reveling in the story. “Put me down as believing both the First and, apparently, Second Amendments protect reporters’ right to carry pens,” he tweeted.
That’s a nice quick summary of a bad situation that may mean this is over, given what came next:
If Trump wasn’t already in enough trouble with female voters – last week, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that forty-seven per cent of Republican women couldn’t imagine voting for him – he made things even worse on Wednesday, when he told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, during a town-hall meeting in Wisconsin, that women who seek abortions should be subject to “some form of punishment.” After media outlets seized on those incendiary words, Trump issued a written statement recanting them. It said that if Congress enacted a ban on abortion, a policy that Trump now supports, “the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb.”
This rapid about-face only served to highlight the fact that Trump had again presented his opponents with a gift. “Of course we shouldn’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world,” Ted Cruz said. John Kasich made similar comments. Hillary Clinton described Trump’s initial remarks as “horrific and telling.”
And it all adds up:
Abortion is far from the only issue on which Trump tends to waffle or goof up when he is asked detailed questions. The same thing applies to his foreign policy, his trade policy, even his calls to deport illegal immigrants and ban Muslims from entering the United States. Ask him how he would round up eleven million people or which nationalities would be on his no-entry list, and he can’t answer. Trump doesn’t do details. He never has.
When there were ten, or six, candidates in the Republican field, and a televised debate was taking place every week, this didn’t matter much. The jostling in the horse race was the big story, and Trump could get away with generalizations. Now the contest is down to three candidates; there aren’t any debates to dominate the daily news cycle; and the Never Trump folks are harrying the front-runner constantly. With the spotlight on him, the cracks in his candidacy are becoming all too visible.
This may be the end, or not:
The question is, and has been, how large a segment of the Republican electorate the Trump faithful constitute. Most analysts reckon that it’s about a third. That means Trump, to get the twelve hundred and thirty-seven delegates he needs for a majority, also has to draw in some Republicans who like some of what he says and stands for, but not all of it. In states like Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi, he has managed to do this, receiving nearly half the vote. But in other states, such as Illinois and Kentucky, he has been held to the mid-thirties.
Wisconsin, where forty-two delegates are at stake, seems to be another state where Trump is struggling to move beyond his base.
He will lose Wisconsin and then all bets are off – we go to open, contested convention, where anything might happen:
Predictwise, a Web site that combines data from polls and betting markets, estimates that the probability of him getting the nomination is sixty-six per cent. But it’s worth noting that that number has dropped over the past week or so, from eighty per cent.
So, Donald Trump really is self-destructing, but not really. April Fools! A two-in-three chance is still good odds – far better than anyone else’s odds here – although the week was awful:
A White House official said on Thursday that it would be “catastrophic” to adopt a proposal by Donald J. Trump, the Republican front-runner, that Japan and South Korea manufacture their own nuclear bombs to deter North Korea.
Benjamin J. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser and one of President Obama’s closest aides, said, “Frankly, it would be catastrophic were the United States to shift its position and indicate that we somehow support the proliferation of nuclear weapon to additional countries.”
Mr. Rhodes, speaking at the Nuclear Security Summit here convened by Mr. Obama, said Mr. Trump’s proposal was “not particularly relevant to the very serious discussions we’re having here.” But he was withering in his response to the idea, which he said would undercut decades of nonproliferation policy.
“The entire premise of American foreign policy as it relates to nuclear weapons for the last 70 years has been focused on preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Mr. Rhodes said. “That has been the position of bipartisan administrations, of everybody who has occupied the Oval Office.”
No Republicans have come to Trump’s defense on this notion that Japan and South Korea should have nukes – and Saudi Arabia too – so we don’t have to spend our money to protect these freeloaders who are using us and laughing at us. We could all die – but perhaps they should come to his defense on this. This is the NRA argument writ large – if every American carried a loaded gun at all times we’d all be safer. It’s the same sort of thing. Trump’s apparent surprise that no one anywhere loved this idea is understandable.
The same could be said for his comment that women, who have abortions, once abortion is made illegal again, really should be punished. He walked that back, but Amanda Marcotte argues that Trump was just extending the usual argument:
Trump is clearly not conversant in the disingenuous posturing about abortion expected of all anti-choice politicians. If he was, he’d know the official stance that Republicans are supposed to take is that women are victims of abortion and therefore cannot be held responsible for it. Yes, it’s true that women pick up the phone, make the appointment, talk through their decisions with medical professionals, sign paperwork and then either take a pill or let the doctor perform an abortion, but none of this should be taken, in conservative eyes, as evidence that women are the people responsible for the abortion happening. Women are regarded by conservatives as fundamentally incapable of making grown-up decisions. If they choose abortion (and by implication, if they choose sex), it’s because they poor dears were misled.
But, logically, they are the murderers here, not that Trump seems to have thought this through:
One doesn’t want to give Trump too much credit here for his mistake in talking about women like their brains function on a level past that of a 3-year-old. It’s not like he has some kind of respect for women’s intelligence. It’s just that he hasn’t been briefed – likely out of personal disinterest – on the fact that the right’s official stance is no longer that women are murderers. The newer, softer talking point is that women are idiots.
Hey, Marcotte is simply being logical here. What else could they mean? And she drives that point home:
Let’s be quite clear here that the “women are idiots” line that Trump failed to absorb is a millimeter-deep posture. While everyone is tearing their hair out about Trump saying he wants to punish women, Republican legislators nationwide are showing with their actions that punishing women for even thinking about abortion is what they want to do.
The latest example is out of Utah, where the governor signed a law literally forcing women to ingest dangerous, debilitating, medically unnecessary drugs – drugs that can actually kill you – as punishment for their abortions after 20 weeks. The official claim is that he’s just so worried that the fetuses can feel pain that he just needs doctors to give women anesthesia in order to prevent that, but that claim is hard to buy, since the prevailing research shows that the earliest a fetus could possibly feel pain is around 29 to 30 weeks – but as punishment for an abortion, putting someone under works great. It’s expensive, requires a lengthier hospital visit, and makes the patient feel like she’s nursing a hangover after a 3-day bender. And that’s if everything goes well. After all, one reason doctors prefer not to use heavy anesthesia for procedures like abortion is it raises the risk of death substantially.
That’s just one example in a systematic effort:
Really, the vast majority of abortion restrictions boil down to a desire to punish women. Mandatory ultrasounds add expense and time, and require enduring a lengthy vaginal probe. Closing down clinics with medically unnecessary regulations is about making women drive for hours and pony up money for hotel and childcare. Mandatory counseling is about shaming women and telling them lies about how they’ll die of breast cancer if they do this. Now Indiana is forcing women to pay for cremation or burial of embryos removed during abortion, a clear attempt to send the message that an embryo that is the size of a pencil eraser is a child that you killed.
It’s all about punishment. It was always about punishment. If they can’t do it with jail time, they’ll just make the whole process as miserable as possible. Trump’s only mistake was saying the quiet part out loud.
And then he walked it back:
So instead of believing that women who get abortions are violent criminals, he has shifted to the apparently more acceptable belief that they are drooling idiots who cannot be trusted with something as simple as a medical decision regarding their own body. Why this is better continues to be a mystery.
Heather Parton agrees with that:
The party line is that abortion is murder but the woman who solicits it is not guilty by reason of insanity or mental defect. Keep in mind that one third of American women have an abortion at some point in their lives. That’s a whole lot of defective crazy ladies we’re allowing to roam free in society.
After it was pointed out that Trump had screwed the pooch, he issued a rare written “clarification” much like the one he was forced to release when he said the military would follow his order to commit war crimes. (These are the only two times he’s done this) sounding as if it was a forced confession dictated to a prisoner of war…
“If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed – like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”
Actually Reagan, after having signed a liberal abortion bill as Governor of California in the 1960s, ran for president on a “pro-life” platform that only provided an exception – for the life of the mother. And while he didn’t make it the crusade of his presidency, he also didn’t hesitate to reiterate that stance while in office.
She cites his 1988 State of the Union speech:
Let us unite as a nation and protect the unborn with legislation that would stop all Federal funding for abortion and with a human life amendment making, of course, an exception where the unborn child threatens the life of the mother. Our Judeo-Christian tradition recognizes the right of taking a life in self-defense. But with that one exception, let us look to those others in our land who cry out for children to adopt.
You’ll note that he only mentioned the one exception for the life of the mother. And that exception is under fire as well from the farthest fringes of the anti-choice movement which has begun to discuss the idea openly that a woman should die rather than abort a fetus. The 2011 Congress even passed a “let women die” conscience clause for doctors and hospitals.
That died in the Senate but it did allow doctors and hospitals to “exercise their conscience” by letting pregnant women facing emergency medical conditions die – it’s a Republican thing:
This concept remains on the fringes for now, but the other exceptions for rape and incest, which have always been mainstream even among conservatives, are increasingly being abandoned. Neither Rick Perry nor Marco Rubio endorsed those exceptions in their presidential campaigns, arguing that “every life is precious.” And back in 2012, even amidst the furor over Missouri candidate Todd Akin’s controversy in which he bizarrely stated that women can’t get pregnant from a “legitimate rape,” the platform committee at the RNC called for a ban on abortion, with no exceptions, not even the life of the mother. Just to make it truly antediluvian, they also called for a ban on emergency contraception, apparently believing that if any female did happen to find herself in circumstances one might define as a “legitimate rape,” she should also be denied the possibility of preventing a pregnancy from resulting in the first place.
So, despite Trump’s accidental foray into logical thinking, in which he correctly surmised that if abortion is illegal, it makes no sense not to hold the primary perpetrator legally liable, his lawyerly walk-back places him among the less radical of pro-life candidates. He apparently does not believe women should die rather than have an abortion and he has said in the past there should be exceptions for rape and incest. So, if Trump were president he would not force girls to give birth to their own siblings, something which is rapidly becoming a rare act of compassion among “pro-life” politicians.
And that’s no April Fools’ joke:
The practical effects of the rabid protests, the fear mongering, the onerous regulations, the closing of clinics and the defunding of vital services is to make the lives of unintentionally pregnant women who do not wish to bear a child unbearably miserable. Sadistic activists will go to any lengths to terrify young women, even running vicious scams to convince them they are in legal jeopardy if they go through with an abortion. Authorities around the country are arresting and jailing women for having illegal self-induced abortions, as bizarre as that sounds. These days, people take their lives into their hands to even accompany a friend to a clinic if some “pro-life” terrorist decides that is where he’s going to carry out his deadly crusade.
So cut Trump some slack:
Trump’s original position isn’t really all that radical. Women are punished every day for having abortions. Indeed, a fundamental belief among many anti-choice radicals is that pregnancy and childbirth themselves are penances women must pay for their sexuality. (“No get out jail free card for you, young lady.”) Trump – being unschooled in the ways of the conservative movement – foolishly assumed that you’d have to change the law before you could inflict the punishment.
Well, he really was having a bad week. Perhaps he was not really self-destructing, but the process was beginning, and oddly, this may have been his worst moment:
While asking Donald Trump about his feud with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) over their wives on Tuesday night, CNN’s Anderson Cooper told Trump that he was using “the argument of a 5-year-old.”
Cooper asked Trump about his decision to retweet an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz, Ted Cruz’s wife.
“I thought it was a nice picture of Heidi. I thought it was fine,” Trump said in response. “She’s a pretty woman.”
“Come on,” Cooper hit back. “You’re running for president of the United States.”
Trump then told Cooper, “I didn’t start it.” The real estate mogul has blamed Cruz for an anti-Super PAC ad using a photo of Trump’s wife, Melania Trump, from a GQ photo shoot.
“Sir, with all due respect, that’s the argument of a 5-year-old,” Cooper told Trump. “Every parent knows a kid who says, ‘He started it.'”
Trump had no response to that. All he could say was Cruz started it – “He started it!” He said that over and over again. The repetition only reinforced Cooper’s point, over and over again. That’s what self-destruction actually looks like – so this year the big April Fools’ joke may be on Donald Trump – unless he comes out of all this stronger than ever. Then we’ll be the April fools.