Things seem to be changing in the presidential race. Donald Trump had a bad weekend, and he didn’t really know it. The Republicans had an equally bad weekend, but as the Washington Post reports, they certainly knew that:
A growing number of Republican lawmakers and strategists fear that Donald Trump’s hostile remarks about minorities and his unorthodox strategy have imperiled his campaign at the end of a five-week head start on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton that they hoped would fortify him heading into the general election.
“Imperiled his campaign” is shorthand for “throwing it all away” almost on purpose. They’re worried about what they just saw:
Their concerns increased again Sunday after Trump said he thought a Muslim judge might treat him unfairly because he wants to temporarily ban most foreign Muslims from entering the country. The remark was an expansion on repeated assertions over the past week that an American-born judge overseeing a fraud case against him should recuse himself because of his “Mexican heritage.”
“If it were a Muslim judge, would you also feel like they wouldn’t be able to treat you fairly because of that policy of yours?” host John Dickerson asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“It’s possible, yes. Yeah. That would be possible, absolutely,” Trump replied.
Where does this stop? What about black judges? Trump hates that Black Lives Matter movement – all they want to do is murder heroic white policemen – so an African-American judge would have to recuse himself from this fraud case again Trump. So would a judge who happens to be a woman. A lot of women are angry at Trump for his comments about women, who he has said have it so much better than men in this country and deserve no special treatment – they deserve every insult he’s thrown out there. The list could grow, but there are other issues:
The attacks in the Trump University case also underscore the extent to which Trump, who is traveling overseas later this month to visit some of his golf courses, commingles his private business interests with his presidential campaign.
Well, perhaps, once he becomes president, our allies will be countries where he has resorts, or where they’ll let him build new resorts. That would be a curious foreign policy – if he makes big money, for himself, all will be well – but that’s for later. For now, many Republicans are “unnerved by Trump’s decision to continue picking fights with fellow Republicans” and his firm decision “to spend time and resources campaigning in California and other Democratic-leaning states that he is extremely unlikely to win in November.”
It’s almost as if he’s trying to destroy the party and lose the election too. The Post reports that “the prevailing view among prominent Republicans is that Trump still has the time and ability to make the necessary course corrections” – but none of them see that Trump has any intention of making any course correction at all.
What can they do? They can denounce their own candidate for president, and they did:
Republican strategist Brian Walsh, a former spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, quickly took to social media after Trump’s remarks on Muslims on Sunday: “I don’t care if he’s the nominee – Republicans should loudly condemn this racist, nonsensical rhetoric by Trump,” Walsh tweeted.
Walsh, who does not support Trump at the moment, said in an interview that Republican leaders should not hesitate to condemn comments that are “the definition of racism.”
“It’s very toxic for other Republican campaigns and for the party as a whole,” he said. “It’s very concerning.”
Walsh was not alone:
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) responded to Trump’s latest comments with a strongly worded statement to The Washington Post.
“His comments are offensive and wrong and he should retract them,” said Ayotte, who is in a challenging reelection campaign.
Trump’s remark on a theoretical Muslim judge followed his repeated comments arguing that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over fraud lawsuits against his Trump University education business, should have recused himself because “he’s a Mexican.” Trump says his desire to build a wall on the border with Mexico was in conflict with the judge’s ethnic background; Curiel was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrant parents.
That’s what got to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who both now support Trump, but this weekend, with others, added qualifiers to their pro forma enthusiasm for the guy:
“I couldn’t disagree more with a statement like that,” McConnell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” though he repeatedly refused to say whether the comments were by definition racist.
Former speaker Newt Gingrich, another Trump booster, also criticized him on “Fox News Sunday.”
“This is one of the worst mistakes Trump has made, and I think it’s inexcusable,” said Gingrich. He added: “If a liberal were to attack Justice Clarence Thomas on the grounds that he’s black, we would all go crazy.”
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a longtime party strategist and Trump supporter, said in an interview that the real estate mogul needs to “move from a primary message to more of a general-election message” and “to start trying to find ways to reach out to groups he doesn’t need to win, but he needs to make sure he’s not annihilated among,” such as African Americans and Hispanics.
That wasn’t helped by this:
At a rally in Redding, Calif., on Friday, Trump pointed to a black man in the crowd and exclaimed, “Oh, look at my African American over here – look at him.”
No one has used the term “token nigger” in many decades. That seems appropriate here, as does this:
Rick Wilson, a longtime GOP operative who has been one of the most aggressive critics of Trump, penned a column to fellow Republicans this weekend warning that candidates up for election will be yoked to Trump: “You own his politics. You own his policies, even the ones that only last as long as the next contradiction. You own the racial animus that started out as a bug, became a feature and is now the defining characteristic of his campaign. You own every crazy, vile chunk of word vomit that spews from his mouth.”
Wilson said in an interview Sunday that Trump’s comments about Curiel and a hypothetical Muslim judge are “overtly racist” and contradict the freedoms outlined in the Constitution. Wilson said that it is “mortifying” that Trump would use a judge’s ethnic heritage as an excuse for why Trump University has lost court decisions.
“For everyone who cries wolf on racism – and there are a lot of them on the other side – they are now validated forever,” Wilson said.
Is he trying to throw this election away? And why is he spending all that time in California? That’s absurd:
California, where Trump held rallies over the past two weeks, was last won by a Republican nominee in 1988 by George H. W. Bush; a recent survey showed Clinton with a double-digit lead over Trump there.
“By any stretch of the GOP imagination, as many as 18 other states that Mitt Romney lost would probably be better targets for Donald Trump than California,” said Neil Newhouse, who was GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s pollster in 2012. “Recent polling indicates that it may not be far-fetched for the Trump campaign to believe they can expand the electoral playing field, but overreaching can expend scarce resources and divert them from states that are more realistic targets.”
During a three-day swing through the Golden State last week, Trump repeatedly told supporters he intends to contest the state in the fall. “I’m going to play heavy in California,” Trump said in Redding on Friday. “Right? I think we can win.”
Trump also said he harbors ambitions to wrest Oregon and Washington from Democratic hands. Neither state has gone Republican since Ronald Reagan won them in his 1984 landslide.
This may be delusional, and that is the problem Paul Ryan has with the guy:
After refusing to back Trump for weeks, Ryan wrote a guest column for his hometown newspaper Thursday explaining that he would vote for Trump while still voicing disagreements when necessary. The next day, Ryan followed through – criticizing Trump’s comment about Curiel as “out of left field.”
“He clearly says and does things I don’t agree with, and I’ve had to speak up on time to time when that has occurred, and I’ll continue to do that if it’s necessary,” Ryan told a Wisconsin radio station. “I hope it’s not.”
Hope is nice. Everyone should have some, but realism is better:
Trump shows little sign of changing course and continues to champion policies that Ryan and other establishment Republicans oppose. At his Redding rally last week, for example, Trump led one of his regular chants on building a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Build that wall!” Trump said to the cheering crowd.
“The wall got 10 feet higher!” one man yelled out in response.
Sure, and the wall between Donald Trump and the Republican Party, with its structure and finances to win the presidency and hold onto the House and Senate, just got higher too, as did the wall between Trump and the presidency itself – but that had to be. Chris Cillizza explains that here:
We can now dismiss the notion that Trump will adjust his rhetoric or his positions on issues to accommodate the general electorate. That idea is totally and completely false. There is no Trump 2.0, no reinvention of Trump as more inclusive or less combative waiting just on the horizon. This is it.
Trump has said as much.
“You think I’m going to change?” he asked rhetorically during a combative news conference Tuesday at Trump Tower. “I’m not changing.”
He has said some version of “Trump gonna Trump” for weeks, even while occasionally promising to maybe be a little bit nicer and amid promises from chief campaign strategist Paul Manafort that the “new” Trump was coming soon.
A placid debate here. A nice comment about a former rival there. Republicans desperate for some sign that they had not picked the least-predictable nominee in modern history have tried to interpret it all as evidence that Trump could and would be managed. That he “got” it and knew he could not keep acting the way he acted to win the Republican primary contest.
The reality is this: Trump can’t escape – and doesn’t seem to want to escape – from being exactly and unapologetically who he is.
Think about it from Trump’s perspective. Everyone – and I do mean everyone – laughed at him when he got into the presidential race almost a year ago. They said he was nothing more than a reality-TV star. A loud-talking know-nothing who would not go anywhere.
Then Trump beat the other Republican candidates. Convincingly.
What possible lesson could he draw from that? This one: The people who say they know what works in politics have no clue. And the people who matter (voters) love his over-the-top rhetoric and willingness to be controversial all the time.
And there’s another factor:
Remember that Trump is 69. How many people of that age, particularly those who have lived as public and successful a life as Trump, make major changes in who they are and how they approach the world? The answer is very, very few.
Republican elected officials, not the voters, will just have to deal with this:
Trump is who he is. Republican voters, or at least a decent chunk of them, liked that person enough to hand him the party’s presidential nomination. And that’s the person Trump will be between now and Nov. 8 – and the one the GOP has pinned all of its hopes on. Gulp.
Gulp indeed – this was the weekend the Republican Party fully realized, finally, the problem they now have on their hands, which Josh Marshall sees this way:
He’s like no politician who has reached the pinnacle of the electoral stage in perhaps a century, maybe ever. His public appearances are like a fugue of impulse and aggression, overlapped with charisma and humor and a searching for the spirit of the crowd, a sometimes frantic, sometimes slow mix of neediness, divination and dominance.
He’s not like anything ever seen before in American politics, and Marshall sees Trump as almost a perfect match for Hillary Clinton:
By a mix of temperament and chastened experience on the public stage, Clinton is controlled, wary and planned. To her disfavor, she is hard pressed to be spontaneous or unrehearsed in the moment. With Trump, what little preparation or strategy there may be seldom survives first contact with the emotion, intuition, aggression or the perceived opportunities of the moment. The most salient thing we’ve learned about Donald J. Trump over the last year is that he is unable to control himself and his myriad mercurial, even manic impulses. He may want to ‘pivot’. But he can’t. The crazy follows him because it emanates from him. And because he can’t, he says he doesn’t want to. He probably believes it too.
But after two rallies and a flurry of interviews there’s no question Clinton has gotten to Trump in a big way. As she said, he is very thin skinned. (Emphatically denying that you’re thin-skinned is not a credible rebuttal.) Given who he is, being denigrated by a strong woman must cut deeply. Underneath the angry talk, he appears befuddled and uncertain about just how to respond. That is mainly because even before her assault he’d maxed out his invective. She was crooked, a liar, untalented, a lightweight, a sexual predator by proxy. How exactly do you escalate from there?
They were made for each other, and she got the better of him:
His furious effort to wring more aggression out of the English language has proved a rather unconvincing rebuttal to her central charge that he is temperamentally unfit, too emotionally unstable to serve as President. He now says flatly that she should be in jail, says he’ll find an Attorney General who will imprison her. He now also calls her a “thief” which somehow is the reason she set up her own email server. Overshadowed by the “my African-American” stumble in Friday’s speech in Redding was a bizarre interlude in which Trump gave a glowing evocation of the supporter who cold-cocked and beat a protester in Tucson on March 20th as an example of his little-heralded but purportedly expansive support among African-Americans. He’s trying to escalate but has little room to go. He’s maxed out. The transcripts of the two speeches read like compressed literary spittle.
His affect is also different. Both rallies struck me as significantly hotter than anything we’ve seen before from Trump, more sweat, more chopping hands, more yelling – simply more electric, frenzied and angry.
As Clinton and her team certainly anticipated, hitting him hard as mentally unstable and unfit for the presidency has placed Trump in a sort of Chinese finger puzzle of his own creation. The only mode of response he knows – an escalating and bellicose round of personal attacks with increasingly hyperbolic accusations – only confirms Clinton’s diagnosis. The harder he fights the tighter the charge sticks.
And then there are the polls that show her surging ahead:
Polls in the early summer can be erratic and are easy to over-interpret. But people do over-interpret them. Trump is uniquely dependent on impressive poll numbers because his entire campaign message is a disquisition on his own strength and dominance. When your whole message is about winning but you’re losing, you start to seem ridiculous. What now seems like an ephemeral surge in Trump’s numbers after clinching the Republican nomination greased the skids for numerous Republican elected officials to endorse Trump’s candidacy and pledge their support. They’re now locked in for a ride with an emotionally unstable man whose personal insecurities and instinctive racism now seem only to be accelerating.
That’s what they realized this weekend, and the Washington Monthly’s David Atkins offers them a bit of a diagnosis:
Even the most casual observer can see that Trump is a classic narcissist. Like most narcissists, Trump tends to do and say whatever is best for him even at the expense of everyone else. Most importantly, he is congenitally unable to apologize and take responsibility for past bad behavior, or even concede that a critic might have a valid point. His reaction to being criticized is to immediately engage in childish and petty personal attacks against his critics.
Everyone has seen that for almost a year, but now they finally see where that leads:
The problem with petty personal attacks is that they quickly tend to devolve into bigotry. So it is that when a judge with a Hispanic surname ruled against Trump in the ongoing scandal of his fraudulent Ponzi scheme “university,” Trump’s reaction wasn’t to suggest that all the facts had yet to come out, or that the judge had misinterpreted the data, or even that the judge had a politically motivated agenda as a secret liberal. These are the sorts of defenses that people who aren’t egomaniacal narcissists might make.
But not Trump. Trump’s reaction was to slam the judge for the crime of being Hispanic.
Trump goes for the jugular every time to silence his critics by placing himself (in his mind) on a level above them and denying them the right to even dare to judge him, by virtue of some innate inferiority on their part. These are classic kindergarten bully antics. And in adult political life, it’s almost impossible to engage in kindergarten bullying without repeatedly stepping across lines of racism, sexism, and bigotry.
And one thing leads to another:
This isn’t just a problem for him as a candidate, of course: it’s a problem for the entire Republican Party, which is aghast.
But then, the GOP did this to itself. You can only use dog-whistled racism and sexism to deprive the middle class of its living standards for so long until that middle class stops buying into the hidden rhetoric and the plutocrat-friendly ideology, and starts to want more overt policies designed to help members of their own tribal identity.
It just happens to be that Republican voters picked a narcissist bully who will be constitutionally unable to do what it takes to win a general election. He just can’t help himself.
That seems to be the case now, but this narcissistic bully, who will be constitutionally unable to do what it takes to win a general election, won the Republican nomination rather easily. Then, presumably, the wall, the one between him and the presidency, also suddenly got taller. The angry Republican base is a subset of all Republicans, which is, in turn, a subset of all Americans. The taller the physical wall that Trump would build got, the taller the virtual wall that separates that subset of a subset of all Americans from the rest of us got too. That’s what seems to be playing out now. He did get his wall. It wasn’t the one he anticipated.