If you were worried that the Donald’s inevitable implosion wouldn’t be wildly spectacular, you can put your mind at ease.
Give the guy some credit.
Moving from insulting Mexican immigrants to insulting Vietnam-era POWs was a hugely risky and un-Wharton-School-like jump. Sure it was John McCain, the RINO’s RINO, being ripped, and maybe the “I like people who aren’t captured” line reads halfway like a joke, but let’s face it: Isn’t this the ultimate Spinal Tap test of where that line between clever and stupid actually falls?
The entire Republican establishment — absent, of course, Ted Cruz, who is always quick to show his pro-demagoguery bona fides – did turn on Trump as if they had all just noticed he was still the short-fingered vulgarian he’d always been.
Ah, but Trump, in turn, fired back at them — because why wouldn’t he. And now we’re left in the aftermath of the implosion wondering who it was that actually got hurt.
What we know is that for entertainment value — and how else can you measure the GOP primary at this time? — this is more than anyone could hope for. It’s ratings gold. It’s Internet click bait. It’s the story that won’t go away.
And Trump isn’t going away either, of course. His non-apology tour over the weekend — in which he continued to rip McCain and, of course, also the media — proved as much. As we all know, the Donald does nothing halfway. If you’re going to deal exclusively in the art of the outrage, there is no percentage in halfway. For Trump, it’s always go big or go home, and even though he has a few dozen outsize buildings named after him, going home just isn’t his style, at least not until he’s ready.
And, besides, who’s going to force him out of the race? As various pundits have noted, Trump has no funders to rein him in. Every penny he has raised has come from his own pockets. As Trump puts it, “I’m really rich.” Maybe, if nothing else, this will be the moment America realizes that money and politics aren’t always a good match.
But the bigger question, the vital question, is not whether Trump is going anywhere. It’s whether the unseemly number of Republicans supporting Trump will stick with him. They rallied to him after the immigrants-as-rapists speech. You think they’re leaving now?
The question is eating away at the GOP establishment, and you can see why.
If the Trumpians stay with him, it means for a significant subset of Republicans that insulting Mexican immigrants trumps insulting war heroes. No wonder most of Trump’s GOP competitors have stayed basically silent on the Donald’s adventures in xenophobia.
If the Trumpians stay with him, it’s an admission that insulting war heroes is fine if they’re not, say, your kind – like double-amputee Democrats or, for that matter, semi-moderate Republicans who spend 5 1/2 years in a prisoner of war camp enduring torture while Trump, like Bush and Clinton, was enduring the torture of figuring out the best way to avoid the draft. (The irony, of course, is that John Kerry, who enlisted, would be the one who gets swift boated.)
If the Trumpians stay with him, the GOP push to dump Trump could well push Trump toward a third-party run, which, Ross Perot-like, could wreck any chance of Republicans beating someone named Clinton. This is Trump’s hole card, and it’s safe to assume he’d play it if he’s in the mood. If the Republicans continue to hit at Trump – and especially if they try to exclude him from the Aug. 6 Fox debate, for which he is sure to qualify – you can bet that he’ll hit back. It’s what he does.
The reason Trump insulted McCain in the first place was McCain’s assertion that Trump had riled up the “crazies” in his state. First he called McCain a “dummy” for finishing at the bottom of his class at Annapolis. And when that didn’t go anywhere, he went for his he-prefers-heroes-who-don’t-get-captured line.
Given that McCain’s refusal to take an early out from torture when offered was heroism above and beyond, Trump’s insult would be the end of a campaign for any normal politician. The Des Moines Register editorial board called him a “feckless blowhard” and said he should drop out of the race. But nothing about Trump is normal. And nothing about his campaign is normal. And if the madness must eventually come to an end, there is still this to consider: In a just-released Washington Post/ABC News poll, Trump leads the GOP field with a staggering 24 percent. Scott Walker and Jeb Bush are next, at 13 and 12 percent respectively.
What’s staggering about it is that everyone knows Trump can’t win. The same poll showed 54 percent of Republicans saying he didn’t represent their party’s core views. Meanwhile, 66 percent of Republicans said Mexican immigrants were mostly honest. But if the poll also showed Trump’s support falling significantly on the one day of post-McCain polling, it also showed in a three-way race, Clinton at 46 percent, Bush at 30 and Trump at 20.
So what is the Trump story about? Pretty obviously, it’s about those in the Republican Party needing to latch on to the candidate most likely to go rogue — but really rogue this time, which apparently you can do if you happen to be both a reality-TV billionaire and real-life mogul whose whole persona is built on the notion that he doesn’t care about getting along with others.
And if it’s clear that this is where the Trump campaign was always headed, that doesn’t mean anyone really knows where it might go next.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr.