I don’t know what date you’ve got in your when-will-the-Donald-finally-implode pool, but there’s a lot of smart money down on Debate Night, Aug. 6.
As The New York Times put it, Thursday’s Debate Night is – in a word — huge. Huge for Trump, and maybe for the other guys, too. The thinking is that when Trump supporters actually see the Donald being the Donald during an actual debate about who leads the free world, it might just give some of them pause.
But here’s my guess: There will be no pausing. Not yet. Eventually, certainly, but not now. This may be the night for which all liberal elites have been waiting, the night when the Donald turns out to be, well, the Donald. But it’s also the night that the Trumpians have been awaiting – the night for their guy to be, well, their guy. And the funny thing is, they’ll probably both get what they want.
For Trump the night is so huge that instead of poring over policy books, he went to Scotland to visit one of his golf courses, where he told the press that he’s not studying at all for the debate — you knew that guy in high school, right? — and that he’ll do either “great” or “terribly,” which is probably right.
There are two questions, though: Which will it be – great or terribly? And, will it matter?
The other guys — and we’re not even sure which of the other guys will make the 10-person cut — can’t know what to do. As one GOP operative smartly noted, prepping for this debate is like preparing for a NASCAR race when you know one of the drivers will show up drunk. You can drive a perfect race and still wind up in a nine-car mashup.
Here’s what I mean. Rick Perry, polling at 2 percent, decided that his way to a presidential comeback was to be the anti-Donald. And so the skirmish begins. Now Trump is saying Perry should have to take an IQ test to get into the debates, and Perry, meanwhile, is challenging Trump to a pull-up contest. Who wins that one? At this point, Perry doesn’t even qualify for the big-kids’ debate.
Look, everyone knows there will never be a President Trump. In fact, it’s hard to imagine any of the candidates as president just now, including Hillary Clinton as she does her own implosion dance. But what should be clear is that there will be at least two GOP primaries – the Trump primary and the post-Trump primary. The Trump primary doesn’t end until his campaign ends, at which time we can get back to more familiar political dysfunction.
But how do you get to post-Trump time? The usual stuff won’t work, as, surprisingly, none of the established political rules seem to apply to blowhard, billionaire, real-estate-mogul, reality-TV-star vulgarians.
The evidence is all there. Start with the so-called gaffes — Mexicans as rapists, McCain as a non-hero (Trump saying he prefers heroes who aren’t captured) — which don’t seem to be gaffes at all to the Trumpians, who think he got it right.
Stop next at the semi-scandalous media revelations about Trump’s all-too-chronicled life. The Daily Beast goes back 22 years to find that Ivana once said that Trump raped her when they were married. Ivana has now walked that back, but not before The Daily Beast reports that a Trump lawyer asserted that there’s no such thing as marital rape and threatened the reporter’s career if he went with the story.
The New York Times, meanwhile, went back over a decade’s worth of Trump depositions to find the time when he told a lawyer who needed to take a break to pump breast milk for her 3-month old that she was “disgusting.” Is anyone surprised? I didn’t think so.
Then there are the laughable policy prescriptions, containing little to no policy, the latest example being Trump’s ideas on medical reform. In a CNN interview, he said Obamacare was “very bad” and when asked what he would do about it, he said, “Repeal and replace it with something terrific.” The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza promptly dubbed it “Terrificare.” Meanwhile, when Trump offered up a vague outline of what something terrific would be, it sounded a lot like Obamacare. Of course, Trump once favored universal health care, which you’d think would work against him among the Trumpians, and yet.
How will Trump’s opponents handle all this? In the run-up to the debate, Rand Paul is calling the Trump surge a temporary “loss of sanity.” His opponents know they have to call his candidacy out for what it is — a fevered dream for a significant slice of angry Republicans. But will they? Trump will be asked, of course, to explain himself. Can he?
This is what makes the whole thing so delicious. Every pundit has tried to explain the Trump appeal — I like Peggy Noonan’s: it’s not about people’s anger at government, but about their contempt for government — but I think The Onion got it best, in a fake column supposedly authored by Trump, in which he writes, “Admit it: You people want to see how far this goes, don’t you?”
This is how far. According to The Daily Mail, Trump has asked the Iowa State Fair for permission to bring one of his three helicopters there to offer free rides to the kids so they can see just what 18-karat, gold-plated seat belts look like. In a temporary appearance of sanity, the State Fair apparently said no. Just don’t expect the sanity to hold.
Photo credit: DonkeyHotey, Creative commons, Flickr.