I’ve watched the campaign of Donald J. Trump for the presidency with interest since the moment this unique spectacle began. As I explained early on, while I considered the man himself to be a clownish character, I was glad that he was raising issues that needed to be discussed but weren’t until The Donald entered the race.
I knew from the moment Mitt Romney lost an election in 2012 that he shouldn’t have that the Republican Party would take all the wrong lessons from that needless defeat. As I predicted, rather than refocus to win more votes from demographics that felt unloved by Romney — especially working class whites — the GOP establishment would jump through great intellectual hoops to reach any other conclusion. And so they did.
Right-leaning pundits and the GOP’s donor class, which between them pretty much call the shots on what’s acceptable Republican discourse, wanted nothing to do with any outreach to downmarket whites, whom they despise. So it’s safe to say we wouldn’t be talking about out of control illegal immigration or job losses to China if it weren’t for Trump, who sashayed and tweeted his way into the campaign and shifted the GOP’s Overton window in a stunning fashion.
There will be much for future historians to ponder in this year’s remarkable Republican primary race, which left the party’s “stars” gasping for breath, not sure exactly what hit them when the vaunted Trump train barreled through their ranks. Like pretty much every other pundit in America, I got it wrong when I said last summer that Trump stood no chance of getting the Republican nomination, much less winding up in the White House. Otherwise I stick by most of what I said about Trump and his candidacy when this strange saga kicked off.
That said, I always had doubts about Trump, enormous ones. How not? This, after all, is a reality TV star whose all-over-the-map business dealings can charitably be called dodgy. In a field like national politics that attracts narcissists like schoolyards beckon pedophiles, Trump is a standout for his rank, tacky self-absorption. His inability to admit ever being wrong, his incessant need to double, then triple-down on any issue, however small, was impossible to miss. Warning signs were large and neon-lit for anyone caring to see.
Nevertheless, I had hopes that, eventually, professional handlers would get a hold of Trump and moderate his rough edges. Once he secured the GOP nomination a more focused Trump — one not needing to respond to every imagined slight with an incendiary tweet — had to arrive. Surely if he expected to be competitive in the general election, Trump knew he would have to refocus, stop pandering to his narrow but fervent base, and start talking like, well….a president.
Alas, I was wrong. Wise friends of mine like Tom Nichols and Rick Wilson were right all along. There is no better Trump. There is no responsible Trump. There is no balanced Trump. There is no presidential Trump. There is only Trump.
This is a man who cannot listen to any opinions contrary to his own. Sycophancy is a requirement for admission to Trump’s inner circle, which explains why his echo chamber is so effective at silencing reality. His campaign is now in free fall. His self-immolation in the weeks after the Republican convention — between attacks on the family of a dead American soldier to asking the Kremlin to find Clinton’s missing emails — is unprecedented in our country’s political history. Trump will lose catastrophically on November 8 to Hillary Clinton, an almost unimaginably flawed candidate whom any normal Republican could defeat, and whose moving back into the White House fills me with dread.
I’m not a very partisan person, as my longtime readers know, and until the last year I was never particularly anti-Hillary, whom I regarded as a world-class grifter with few, if any, firm convictions beyond the naked pursuit of power and money. Corrupt politicians scare me less than fanatical ones. However, the revelations of EmailGate, which I’ve analyzed in great depth, reveal a woman whose crass disregard for our nation’s laws and its security renders her unfit to be commander-in-chief.
Yet she will be. Trump has now self-destructed in such a shocking fashion, revealing his true, ugly self, that many average Americans have decided he’s crazy. I’ll leave actual diagnosis to mental health professionals, but the case for Trump having something very wrong with him now seems self-evident.
Let me be clear. Even if Trump were the picture of rectitude, a modest man not prone to outbursts and devoted to country over self — in other words, the opposite of who he actually is — he would still be unfit to be commander-in-chief. Allow me to dispense with the usual liberal pieties about his “racism” and “bigotry.” His numerous repulsive utterances aside, I see no evidence that Trump actually has any firm convictions — about race, creed, religion, politics, anything — outside himself.
Now that Trump has decided to ham-handedly pander to African Americans while going wobbly on deporting illegal immigrants, thereby undoing his main reason for getting in the presidential race in the first place, he has revealed himself to be every bit as insincere as Hillary Clinton. If Trump’s ardent AltRight fanbase, which values frog memes over policy, doesn’t now realize that they are just one more Trumpian long con, in his long list of them, they never will.
The real problem is that Trump has allowed his campaign to become a pawn of the Kremlin. There’s hardly any “campaign” to speak of. There’s about a platoon of full-time staff, there’s no national organization, no grass-roots anything, and hardly any advertising either. Yet what there is now openly utters rank Russian propaganda. Trump has finally gotten rid of the GRU flunky who was running the campaign, but there remains a whole retinue of people with troubling ties to the Kremlin surrounding the Republican nominee. To say nothing of Trump’s own mouthing of Moscow’s lies. Unwitting he may be, but Trump is unmistakably the Kremlin’s man. This situation is unprecedented in our country’s history and should worry all Americans, since Vladimir Putin’s Russia is no friend of ours.
It would be in the interests of America and the Republican Party for Trump to step down at once, to at least give the GOP a fighting chance to keep Clinton out of the White House. Of course, there’s zero chance that will happen, given the size of Trump’s ego, and his recent selection of hard-right propagandists to head his campaign into the home stretch gives a clear indication of where he’s going — and how unpleasant it will be.
Last week, from the cliff’s edge of collapsing poll numbers, Trump gave hints of a more sober, less hysterical self. There was even a vague apology of sorts for his past offenses. His campaign promised a revitalized effort without the personal attacks that are Trump’s actual brand. His representatives spent the weekend explaining the relaunch to the media. Then, early this morning, Trump was back to being himself, tweeting unhinged personal insults at members of the media whose coverage of The Donald has been deemed insufficiently fawning by The Donald. This will continue until November 8 and anybody who expects anything different is a fool.
What Trump’s game here is can’t be determined with certainty. Was his presidential run a publicity stunt, an effort to relaunch the Trump brand that inexplicably was taken seriously by the public? Is his quest for the White House really just the pilot episode of Trump’s next reality TV show? With Trump, anything is possible. All that can be said for certain is that Trump is doing incalculable damage to the Republican Party while his incendiary rhetoric about Democrats stealing the election, months before anybody has voted, may be endangering the Republic itself. We have here an assault on our democratic norms that should provoke outrage. This is a dangerous and irresponsible man.
Don’t waste your tears on the GOP, however. The Republican establishment brought this nightmare on itself. First, by ignoring the legitimate concerns of countless voters — about the country’s course, about jobs, about our withering identity as Americans — which opened the door for a conman to seduce them. Neither did the full cast of GOP presidential wannabes in 2016 cover itself with glory. At any point, any one of them — they were losing to Trump anyway — could have pointedly taken the reality TV star to task about his fraudulent campaign, thereby bursting his bubble before the cameras. None did. Last, the Republican National Committee has been derelict in not making a serious effort to defenestrate Trump while there was still time to put forward another candidate. Republicans will be slaughtered in November, thanks to Trump, and the GOP will bear a lot of the blame.
However, some sympathy is in order for Americans who have been conned by Trump. It’s understandable that many average citizens — feeling unloved by any political party, being ignored when not mocked by the media (which is eager to call them ignorant racists at any opportunity), looking forward to a future of declining prosperity and fragmenting community — would find Trump’s message’s congenial. Now, however, they need to face the painful fact that the Republican nominee meant none of what he said to them. They can be added to the list of Trump’s failed schemes — steaks, vodka, mortgages, casinos, his “university” — that are discarded when no longer needed.
No American who cares about our national security can vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Just because the former is a greater threat to our democracy does not make the latter acceptable. Former CIA officer Evan McMullin has thrown his hat in the ring and is running as an independent, offering an alternative on November 8 for those who care about our national security. McMullin offers an honorable option for those who cannot pull the lever for anybody named Clinton. I care a lot about honor and I will be voting for Evan. You should think about it too.