June opened with a wreck – that’s why there’s been a pause here – and the little Toyota may be a “total” – the cost of repairs to the extensive damage may exceed the actual value of the car. The insurance company will determine that soon – but everyone involved is okay, more or less. These things happen, and any car can be replaced – but in politics, a serious wreck can be the end of the world, or, less dramatically, the end of a political career. This is not a matter of slapping on new body parts, repainting the thing and moving on. Political damage cannot be repaired that easily, if at all, and June opened up with a massive wreck for Donald Trump too.
Actually, this was a political wreck waiting to happen, as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie explains here:
Look carefully at the Republican primaries and one fact sticks out: From the time Trump announced his campaign in July to the last stretch of the Iowa caucuses, Trump was untouched by his competitors. Yes, at debates and in forums, they criticized him for insufficient conservatism and bad manners, but that was the extent of the pushback with few exceptions (which included juvenile mockery). On core questions of his persona and candidacy – his checkered business record, his shady relationships, his unscrupulous ventures – Republicans were silent. That meant Trump could run for the nomination without having to deal with, or answer, questions about the most embarrassing and controversial parts of his record. Republicans allowed Trump to sell himself as a master businessman, and that’s what he did.
The reality star and tabloid mainstay thrived in the primary’s fetid swamp where – without substantive attacks on his record or persona – he could suck attention from his competitors and avoid serious scrutiny. And it’s clear he expects to do the same in the general election, dominating daytime cable airwaves with outrageous statements and conspiratorial attacks – a campaign waged via greenroom and speed dial. But as Trump is learning, to his chagrin, the general is a different environment, and here – where the press has just two targets and he’s up against one campaign, not sixteen – the scrutiny and the pressure are much, much greater.
The thing everyone says, that a hotly-contested series of primaries separates the competent from the foolish and absurd, ending with the party’s strongest possible candidate, just didn’t work out this time:
Far from finding strength in the fight for the Republican nomination, Trump was ill-served by the dysfunction of it all. In escaping much of the close examination of a presidential primary, he has entered the general election ill-prepared for the most basic interactions between a candidate and the press.
That’s how we got this wreck:
It’s how we got the spectacle of Tuesday, when an enraged Trump went on a rampage against journalists after some cursory scrutiny around his much-touted donations to veterans’ groups. A Washington Post report found major discrepancies; not only had Trump raised less than he’d claimed at his veterans’ fundraiser in January, he hadn’t made his promised $1 million donation either. If this were still the Republican primary – during which Trump was running against opponents who dared not touch him, for fear of alienating his supporters – he might have escaped the inevitable blowback that comes with stiffing veterans.
Instead, he had to deal with a press that was singularly focused on his actions as the Republican presidential nominee. Which makes sense: It’s exactly the scrutiny you receive when you reach this point in American politics. Trump couldn’t handle it. During the course of his news conference, he railed against the press corps as “not good people,” singled out ABC’s Tom Llamas as a “sleaze,” and mocked the looks of CNN’s Jim Acosta. “I think the political press is among the most dishonest people that I have ever met, I have to tell you,” he said. “I see the stories, and I see the way they’re couched.”
Trump threw a tantrum. And we’re sure to see it again. He isn’t just unaccustomed to the attention and scrutiny of the political press; he’s temperamentally unsuited to it as well.
This was a wreck, and one that continued:
The same day Trump fell apart in the face of some basic questioning over his charity, the public won access to unsealed documents in the real estate mogul’s legal battles over the now-defunct Trump University, a for-profit school started in 2005. The papers detail an organization that critics describe as predatory and fraudulent. “I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” said one sales manager in his testimony, “and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”
The papers are a gold mine of information that reveal the extent to which Trump lent his name and endorsement to operations designed for no purpose other than to extract wealth from ordinary people. Trump sold his university as a tool that would help everyday Americans improve their financial position, something that would “teach you better than the best business school.” His employee practices, however, told a story of rapaciousness: Trump University employees were pushed to sell expensive courses, upward of $35,000, to struggling customers in what sounds like a glorified telemarketing scheme. (You can almost imagine employees complaining “the leads are weak” to a Trump simulacrum screaming “always be closing.”)
Already, Democrats are slamming Trump as a “con-man who profited off of the misery of others,” a charge he’ll have to respond to. He’ll also have to deal with growing and aggressive questions from the press, who will want details on how he ran this and other businesses.
And on top of all of this scrutiny and attack, Trump will have to build a campaign operation and continue to unite the Republican Party, a task complicated by his drive to hit all critics, even if they’re allies.
Bouie notes that Republicans tried to sell themselves on the idea of a “silver lining” in all of this – Trump, being so outrageous, would bring in new voters, and maybe they’d win a few traditionally Democratic states, but now they may know better:
Trump isn’t just a compromised candidate hated by large parts of the electorate – he’s hardly a candidate at all, with few of the skills or qualities you need to survive at the highest levels of national politics. Trump has all the markings of a paper tiger, and there’s a good chance he’ll be torn apart like one, too.
All that Bouie says isn’t the half of it, as Josh Marshall covers the bigger wreck here:
We’ve seen Trump building this argument for a while now. But in an interview yesterday with The Wall Street Journal he made it yet more explicit. Trump says that Judge Gonzalo Curiel has an “absolute conflict” in presiding over the Trump University case because of his “Mexican heritage.” The fact that Curiel was born to immigrant parents in Indiana in 1953 is relevant, according to Trump, because Trump’s been so vocal against illegal immigration. “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest.”
Marshall explains the substantial problems with that sort of thing:
It’s true that it is a very, very big deal for the presidential nominee of a major political party to be engaging in such scurrilous attacks on a member of the federal judiciary. That would be a big deal even if there were no racial angle. But I confess that I’m surprised at how many press accounts treat this racial dimension as a sort of icing on the cake of awfulness of this story, an additional, intensifying outrage on top of Trump’s obvious contempt for an independent judiciary.
I don’t want to make it a competition over which thing is worse. Both are awful; it’s not a competition. But in context of Trump’s entire campaign, Trump’s attacks on Curiel’s ethnicity are a much bigger deal.
And yes, we should have seen this one coming too:
Trump literally started his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers. Then there was the wall he plans the build along the US-Mexico border, a building project he insists Mexico will pay for. As recently as last night he led a boisterous call-and-response with his audience insisting that Mexico and Mexico alone will pay for the wall.
That’s not just ridiculous. It’s something that would normally happen after a country loses a war and the victorious country imposes a humiliating indemnity on the defeated power. It’s not and has never been about money but humiliation, which is why it is such a driving part of Trump’s presentation. Then there’s the pledge to round up and deport roughly 3% of the current US population in 18 months, an effort that would inevitably lead to the questioning and at least temporary confinement of millions of American citizens and legal residents.
Now against that backdrop comes Trump’s claim that Judge Curiel cannot carry out his duties as judge simply based on the fact that his parents were born in Mexico. (It is irrelevant to the issues at hand but nonetheless ironic that Judge Curiel’s father arrived in the United States before Trump’s mother.) It’s a fascinating claim since it both suggests that Mexican-Americans have inherently divided loyalties and that it is obvious on its face that any Hispanic in the United States would be implacably hostile to Donald Trump.
A crash was inevitable:
These are all of a piece. The entirety of Trump’s campaign has been driven by building white backlash resentment against non-whites – mainly Hispanics and principally Mexican immigrants or their descendants. It’s an escalating narrative: they’re not us, they’re dangerous, they’re taking our stuff and pulling us down.
It’s that mix of grievance and desire to reclaim what is being taken away, that desire for revenge that has been the centerpiece of Trump’s campaign from the outset, far more than any sort of economic arguments or anything else. Racial appeals, dog-whistle and all the rest are certainly not new in American politics. But having a major party presidential candidate running an explicit racist campaign is quite new.
That’s the wreck the Republicans must deal with, as William Saletan says we now have a clear portrait of Trump’s thinking about minorities:
It extends beyond Latinos to blacks, Muslims, and other groups. Trump isn’t an incorrigible bigot. He’s an incorrigible user of bigotry. This is no longer deniable. Republican leaders who support Trump – Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Paul Ryan – should explain why they accept this conduct in their presidential nominee.
Here’s what they have actually accepted:
In December, Trump issued a statement calling for a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Ryan, McConnell, and Priebus disagreed. But Trump stood by his demand, and in the past few weeks, all three men have endorsed him. Barring people from the United States based on religion does not disqualify you from the support of the GOP leadership.
But wait, there’s more:
Ryan, McConnell, and Priebus pretended that the Muslim ban was an aberration. But in the past year, it has become clear that Trump takes the same view of Latinos. He doesn’t hate all of them. He’s happy to say he loves them and pose with a taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo. He turns on them only if they get in his way. If you run against Trump, or if you refuse to dismiss a fraud suit against him, Trump will use your ethnicity against you. He will tell white people that you’re not to be trusted, because you’re Latino.
Trump has now done this six times. He said that Jeb Bush “has to like the Mexican illegals because of his wife,” because she’s “from Mexico.” He warned Iowans not to vote for Sen. Ted Cruz because “not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba.” Two weeks later, Trump made an almost identical statement about people of Cuban descent. He said Curiel was conspiring against him because “I’m very, very strong on the border” and Curiel is “Spanish.” A week ago, Trump said Curiel was biased and “Mexican.”
Trump’s apologists in the conservative media have tried to dress up his beef with the judge as a complaint about illegal immigrants or membership in a political organization. But in his interview with the Journal, Trump tossed that cloak aside. If you’re “of Mexican heritage,” says Trump, you have “an inherent conflict of interest” in judging him. It doesn’t matter which organizations you join or whom you give scholarships to. Your ethnicity is prima facie grounds for suspicion.
Two new front fenders and a new coat of paint aren’t going to fix this:
Trump will try to clean up this incident, as he has after previous slurs, by saying he employs Hispanics, has Muslim friends, sells apartments to Asians, or has “a great relationship with the blacks.” But what makes him unfit for the presidency isn’t that he hates everyone of a particular race, ethnicity, or religion. It’s that he has no compunction about using race, ethnicity, or religion for advantage. If you rule his way, he’ll be pals and share a taco bowl. If you don’t, he’ll go after your heritage.
If you’re not Muslim or Latino, don’t delude yourself that Trump wouldn’t do the same to you. He’s an equal-opportunity demagogue. He’ll find something he can use. He’ll tell people you’re a Seventh-day Adventist. He’ll make fun of your disability. Or he’ll go after your race. That’s what happened to Barack Obama. When Trump turned on Obama, the president’s color was just another angle of opportunity. Kwanzaa; the riots in Ferguson, Missouri; the “thugs” in Baltimore – everything racial became a weapon against “our great African American President” and his lack of “control” over “the African American community.”
And now they have their wrecked candidate:
This is the man Ryan, McConnell, Priebus, and other Republicans have endorsed for president. Banning Muslims, smearing Latinos, blaming blacks, mocking disabilities – none of it is disqualifying in today’s GOP. Days after Trump and his spokeswoman denounced the “Mexican” judge, Ryan endorsed him anyway. The speaker said of Trump: “On the issues that make up our agenda, we have more common ground than disagreement.”
If you belong to a minority – any minority – that tells you all you need to know.
Ryan, McConnell, Priebus, and other Republicans are in a bind, but Kevin Drum has no sympathy for them:
For many years now, the Republican Party has relied on the votes of white men to win the presidency. But that’s gotten harder and harder. As Lindsey Graham famously put it four years ago, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”
Graham was right: there’s only just so much you can do with this demographic. In 1980 Ronald Reagan pulled white evangelicals and social conservatives away from the Democratic Party. That got the ball rolling. George Bush seized on Willie Horton in 1988. That helped things along. In the 90s, Newt Gingrich teamed up with Rush Limbaugh, the champion of the angry white guy. That helped some more. A decade later, Karl Rove went off on a dogged search for the final scraps of the evangelical vote. That helped – but only by a percentage point or two. The pickings were getting slim. Finally, with nothing more available to them, a few years ago the Republican Party embarked on a strategy to suppress the non-white vote via voter ID laws. That was a desperate ploy, and it eked out only a slight advantage. For all practical purposes, by 2012 they seemed to be out of ideas. What more could they do?
At the time, I figured they were at the end of their rope. There are only so many angry white guys out there, and only so many that you can get out to vote. The GOP had squeezed the onion dry, and there wasn’t anything left to do.
Drum admits he was wrong about that:
There was one more last-gasp possibility that I hadn’t seriously considered: nominate a guy willing to explicitly base his campaign on racism and xenophobia. No more dog whistles. No subtlety. No “self-deportation” or “Southern heritage.” No winking and nudging as talk radio and Fox News did the dirty work. This was, literally, the only option left to them.
And so we got Donald Trump. It makes sense, but most of us simply didn’t think Republicans would be willing to go quite this far. We were wrong.
In short, someone like Trump had to happen. It was the only option left, but this week things got even worse:
Hillary Clinton delivered a lacerating rebuke on Thursday of her likely Republican opponent, Donald J. Trump, declaring that he was hopelessly unprepared and temperamentally unfit to be commander in chief. Electing him, she said, would be a “historic mistake.”
Speaking in a steady, modulated tone but lobbing some of the most fiery lines of her presidential campaign, Mrs. Clinton painted Mr. Trump as a reckless, childish and uninformed amateur who was playing at the game of global statecraft.
“This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes,” she said, “because it’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.”
Mrs. Clinton, whose campaign had grappled for weeks over how to handle Mr. Trump, seemed to find her footing as she addressed an audience in San Diego that laughed and cheered as she deconstructed Mr. Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements. They were, she said, “not even really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.”
This actually worked pretty well:
Her remarks were billed as a major foreign policy address, and she was flanked by a row of 19 American flags as majestic as those that often back Mr. Trump at his public events. Yet the speech was devoid of new policy prescriptions, and she skipped over difficult episodes during her tenure as secretary of state, including the NATO intervention in Libya and its bloody aftermath in Benghazi.
Instead she borrowed a tactic from President Obama, reeling off zingers that are catnip to cable-news channels…
She said she imagined Mr. Trump was “composing nasty tweets” about her even as she spoke. And indeed he was: “Bad performance by Crooked Hillary Clinton!” Mr. Trump wrote. “Reading poorly from the teleprompter! She doesn’t even look presidential.”
That was pathetically childish of him of course, playing right into her hands:
Mrs. Clinton sought to turn Mr. Trump’s prolific Twitter habit into an additional bullet point demonstrating that he was “unfit” for the presidency, as she put it. She twice referred to the scene in the White House Situation Room where as secretary of state, she advised Mr. Obama on the raid on a compound in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.
“Imagine Donald Trump sitting in the Situation Room, making life-or-death decisions on behalf of the United States,” Mrs. Clinton said, eliciting cries of “No!” from her audience. “Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he’s angry, but America’s entire arsenal.”
In an interview with The New York Times during Mrs. Clinton’s speech, Mr. Trump said that Mrs. Clinton’s performance was “terrible” and “pathetic.” He added: “I’m not thin-skinned at all. I’m the opposite of thin-skinned.”
Why was he trying to prove her point? I’m the opposite of thin-skinned! I am! I am!
Yeah, right, and she rolled on:
By turns mocking and stern, Mrs. Clinton derided Mr. Trump for suggesting that Japan should acquire nuclear weapons to deter North Korea, that the United States should have walked away from the nuclear deal with Iran, and that “maybe Syria should be a free zone for ISIS.”
“He says he has foreign policy experience because he ran the Miss Universe pageant in Russia,” Mrs. Clinton said. “And to top it off, he believes America is weak. An embarrassment. He called our military a disaster. He said we are, and I quote, a ‘third-world country.'”
That prompted another firestorm of those famous Trump Tweets. She made up all those quotes – he never said any of that – not one word of it – so she later provided links to every single quote she cited – as a bit of a public service perhaps. As they say, you can look it up, and Kevin Drum adds this:
Apparently this speech really did get under his skin. But what can he do? His own record over the past few months shows that he’s abysmally ignorant of foreign affairs. He doesn’t know what the nuclear triad is. He favors Britain leaving the EU but has never heard of “Brexit.” He doesn’t know where Iraq’s oil is. He doesn’t know the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas. He’s blissfully unaware that Germany cares a great deal about Ukraine. He was taken by surprise when he learned that US companies aren’t allowed to sell planes to Iran. He thinks Iran is the main trading partner of North Korea. These are all howling bloopers. Anyone who had so much as perused a daily newspaper over the past couple of decades would be familiar with all this stuff.
Apparently Trump hasn’t done that. What’s more, over the past year, while he was running for president, he still didn’t bother. This is inexplicable, even for Trump. How is it that he hasn’t picked up more stuff just by osmosis? It’s not only scary, it’s genuinely puzzling. He obviously cares so little about foreign affairs that he actively resists learning anything about it. I guess that might ruin his prized ability to say anything he wants without letting facts get in the way.
The Republicans do seem to have a wreck of a candidate on their hands, and the New York Times Adam Liptak reports even more substantial damage:
Donald J. Trump’s blustery attacks on the press, complaints about the judicial system and bold claims of presidential power collectively sketch out a constitutional worldview that shows contempt for the First Amendment, the separation of powers and the rule of law, legal experts across the political spectrum say.
Even as much of the Republican political establishment lines up behind its presumptive nominee, many conservative and libertarian legal scholars warn that electing Mr. Trump is a recipe for a constitutional crisis.
That’s what even conservative and libertarian legal scholars see:
With five months to go before Election Day, Mr. Trump has already said he would “loosen” libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations. He has threatened to sic federal regulators on his critics. He has encouraged rough treatment of demonstrators.
His proposal to bar Muslims from entry into the country tests the Constitution’s guarantees of religious freedom, due process and equal protection.
And, in what was a tipping point for some, he attacked Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel of the Federal District Court in San Diego, who is overseeing two class actions against Trump University.
That may have been the final straw:
David Post, a retired law professor who now writes for the Volokh Conspiracy, a conservative-leaning law blog, said those comments had crossed a line.
“This is how authoritarianism starts, with a president who does not respect the judiciary,” Mr. Post said. “You can criticize the judicial system, you can criticize individual cases, you can criticize individual judges. But the president has to be clear that the law is the law and that he enforces the law. That is his constitutional obligation.”
“If he is signaling that that is not his position, that’s a very serious constitutional problem,” Mr. Post said.
And there’s more:
Beyond the attack on judicial independence is a broader question of Mr. Trump’s commitment to the separation of powers and to the principles of federalism enshrined in the Constitution. Randy E. Barnett, a law professor at Georgetown and an architect of the first major challenge to President Obama’s health care law, said he had grave doubts on both fronts.
“You would like a president with some idea about constitutional limits on presidential powers, on congressional powers, on federal powers,” Professor Barnett said, “and I doubt he has any awareness of such limits.”
These were the guys that were infuriated that Obama tried this and that, stuff that they thought he couldn’t try – Obamacare and immigration enforcement changes and whatnot – but they knew Obama would not do what the Supreme Court finally ruled he couldn’t do. Hell, Obama taught constitutional law. Trump, if shot down, is likely to turn to the Court and say “You’re fired!” That scares them quite a bit.
So, June opened with the Trump wreck, and real damage, according to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll:
Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton has opened up a double-digit lead over Republican rival Donald Trump, regaining ground after the New York billionaire briefly tied her last month, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday.
Some 46 percent of likely voters said they supported Clinton, while 35 percent said they supported Trump, and another 19 percent said they would not support either, according to the survey of 1,421 people conducted between May 30 and June 3.
That’s a quick eleven-point swing, and now the question is whether Trump is a “total” – the cost of repairs to the extensive damage may exceed the actual value of the candidate, so just get a new one. But it’s too late for that, and assuming repairs are possible is absurd. It’ll take more than two new front fenders and a new coat of paint to turn this guy into an affable, accepting and pleasant fellow and a thoughtful and circumspect statesman. That’s just not him. The best they can hope for is that this particular wreck is at least drivable, until November. Ah well, accidents happen.