Thus far through the current presidential race, one word is on all of our minds – Trump.
I hesitated to write this blog post, because everyone else is talking about The Donald, and wouldn’t more ink just further encourage the largest ego in the Western Hemisphere? Perhaps, but I know something the others don’t – why and how Trump is leaving the presidential race.
Donald Trump has made a career out of being the alpha male in the room, the guy who is always right and supremely confident of his judgment in all things.
His books, television shows, businesses and public appearances are all extensions of Trump’s personal brand. Trump, supporters say, speaks the hard truth that no one wants to hear, which makes him the protest candidate of the 2016 presidential election. That might be true, but it may also be valid that Trump is above all else, a master marketer of himself and merely telling people not what needs to be said, but what they want to hear.
Trump is on the verge of dropping out of the campaign, but before I tell you how, let’s recap the timeline of this week to see just how The Donald got to this point and why.
Tuesday – That’s Entertainment
On Tuesday, June 30, Fox News interviewed Karl Rove in the days leading up to the first Republican debate scheduled for that coming Thursday. Rove, otherwise known as “Bush’s Brain” (W Bush, that is) acknowledged that Trump had tapped into the anger of a faction of Republicans who were fed-up with inside the beltway politics, but that even given the lightning of protest the New York businessman apparently had captured in a bottle, his unfavorable-favorable ratings were dismal.
“This is going to be one exciting election, and he (Trump) is part of the excitement and part of the entertainment.”
When he made that comment, I am not sure that Rove knew just how entertaining the campaign would get over the next several days. Rove did, however, have a cat-that-caught-the-canary smirk on his face, perhaps foreshadowing something bigger.
And that “something” Rove had up his sleeve was an op/ed piece, Which Donald Trump Will Debate?, he penned for The Wall Street Journal that dropped on Thursday morning. Trump supporters immediately pounced on Rove’s editorial, which they interpreted as a rhetorical bullet fired from the Republican establishment to take out their champion.
The funny thing, however, is that reading Rove’s hit piece is like watching Trump hit himself in the face over and over.
For Rove, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. All Rove had to do to set The Donald up for a fall was to compare Trump’s past statements on policy to his current ones.
Giving an example of Trump’s shifting policy stance on gun control, Rove asked:
Would it be…”‘The Trump who in 2000 wrote, ‘I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun’ might be there. Or it might be the Trump who told AmmoLand last month that ‘the Second Amendment is a bedrock natural right of the individual to defend self, family, and property.’”
Rove simply compared the billionaire’s past left-leaning statements on abortion, guns, immigration, government-run healthcare and taxes to his new-found conservative positions. This was the blueprint for dismantling Trump’s vanity campaign.
Primetime Debate – Show Down in Cleveland
During the primetime debate Thursday night, Fox News moderators asked Trump a number of questions, many of them based on the arguments laid out in Rove’s Wall Street Journal piece.
After pointing out several of his policy flip-flops, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly asked Trump, “When did you actually become a Republican?” casting doubt on his partisan bona fides.
Kelly lowered the boom when she noted to Trump, “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,'” followed by the question, “Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?”
Trump replied with his best received comment of the evening, “I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either…We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.”
Importantly, note Trump’s use of the word “lose,” as this will come into play later in this piece.
Instead of answering the question, one that he most certainly will be asked in a general election, Trump did what he always does – deflect. That he doesn’t have time to be civil is reminiscent of a grade school bully who cuts in front of everyone else in the lunch line, because he is late to a dodge ball game and doesn’t “have time” to stand in line.
READ FULL TRANSCRIPT OF GOP DEBATE
After the debate, Trump told people in the press area, “The questions to me were not nice,” registering not just his displeasure, but also betraying a sense of surprise. The only thing that was surprising was that Trump couldn’t handle the tough questions that his team must have known were coming his way. He was thoroughly unprepared to offer a thoughtful rebuttal.
Debates are sparring matches, intentionally designed to test and stress the candidates, to prepare them for the show of the general election when low information voters will take more notice. Trump did not seem to understand this.
In the debate, Trump failed to do the one thing he needed to do – look presidential. Can anyone imagine the great American presidents of the past century, FDR, Dwight Eisenhower, JFK or Ronald Reagan exhibiting the adolescent rudeness, crass name-calling and policy flip-flopping that is patently Trump? Heck, even Richard Nixon was able to filter his inner Beelzebub in public.
Trump’s “Weird” Political Philosophy
Pivoting from chauvinistic name-calling to denigrating political correctness was perhaps Trump’s best political maneuver of the Thursday primetime debate. Political correctness really is a huge impediment for reasoned debate in America. but unfortunately for Trump, he just didn’t know when to stop.
In an interview on CNN Tonight, Trump said this about Megyn Kelly, “She’s a lightweight…I just don’t respect her as a journalist, I have no respect for her, I don’t think she’s very good, I think she’s highly overrated…”
Trump fell back on his tired tactic of attacking the person, instead of confronting the idea or the issue. Insults and bullying may work in Trump’s board room where he can push people around as chief executive, but this is not how a commander in chief of the world’s most powerful nation governs. The worst, however, was yet to come.
Later in the interview, The Donald appeared to attribute Kelly’s toughness to hormones when he added, “You could see blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her ‘wherever,'” implying her vagina. In other words, Kelly wasn’t nice to Trump because she was in her menstrual cycle.
Erick Erickson, radio host and blogger, immediately disinvited The Donald from his annual RedState Gathering, an influential confab of conservative leaders.
Erickson said, “I don’t want my daughter in the room with Donald Trump.”
Trump’s response was predictable, as he leveled a trademark ad hominem attack on Erickson by calling him a “total loser.”
These days, Hillary Clinton must be flashing the wide Cheshire Cat smile of a seasoned political pro watching her opponent destroy himself and the GOP. For Trump supporters to believe a post-menopausal Hillary would be any nicer to The Donald should they meet in the general election is delusional.
Increasingly, it was looking like the predictions of many pundits were coming true, that Trump’s demise would come at the hand of Trump himself.
In the aftermath, New York Times columnist David Brooks said this on All Things Considered on National Public Radio:
“He’s got a weird ideology. Most politicians – life is left-right. For him, it’s winners and losers…And I don’t think he registers left-right or any political philosophy. He has the firm conviction…he’ll go to his grave believing that if Donald Trump is elected to do anything, he will be the master of the situation.”
Brooks nailed Trump’s world view. In The Donald’s binary universe there are only winners and losers. As recently as last month, Trump said this about Arizona Senator John McCain’s Vietnam War service:
“He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
In my opinion, that comment should have automatically disqualified Trump as a potential nominee to be commander-in-chief of the nation’s military. If being captured on the battlefield makes a soldier, airmen, sailor or Marine a “loser,” then what does Trump have to say about those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and died in combat in service of their country and countrymen? Trump’s candidacy survived the McCain insult, but much as transpired between then and now.
Trump’s candidacy is based on Trump’s leadership qualities, and his accuracy on the acidic influence of political correctness in American society is a wilted fig leaf that can’t cover up his glaring lack of presidential acumen.
Trump and his supporters are confusing political civility with political correctness. It is quite possible to aggressively advocate your policies without making personal attacks on your adversaries’ looks, physical attributes or sex. Resorting to name-calling and insults may help Trump sidestep serious policy discussions, but his habit of attacking the person instead of the idea betrays a lack of leadership, something Trump says he is really good at and at the core of his brand.
Why does Trump avoid wonky policy discussions, the lifeblood of serious politics? Because it doesn’t center the conversation on him. The policy merits of a fair tax, border security, immigration reform all require the discussion to go to a place where nerds rule and Trump falls on his rhetorical face. So, he covers up with talking loud and personal attacks.
In Trump’s world, if you disagree with him publicly, then you are wrong and deserve to be labeled a “clown,” “stupid,” a “joke, a “loser,” or some other insult. And, in Trump’s World we are supposed to accept his judgment because it is said with New York confidence used to cover up his inability to explain his policies even in broad terms.
This is not presidential.
The Man Who Would Not Be King – America’s Most Important President
Good thing George Washington wasn’t anything like Donald Trump.
When then General Washington resigned his military commission in 1783 after defeating the British military, he in effect placed the armed forces under the control of the civilian government and rejected becoming a new king. After hearing the possibility that Washington was likely to lay down his sword in victory, King George III said, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
Let’s hold Donald Trump’s personality up against the template of America’s most important president, and the leader who earned his adversary’s highest compliment.
Rewind to the Maryland state house at Annapolis in 1783. The Continental Army, led by General George Washington, had just vanquished and expelled from the colonies the most powerful fighting force in the world – the British military.
At the time, many looked to Washington as the nation’s de-facto ruler, and encouraged him to assume leadership as the new nation’s king. In a gesture of supreme humility and magnanimity, Washington resisted this temptation. Consequently, Washington ensured the United States would become a nation of free people, not subjects.
Washington’s decision was not a surprise to those who knew him. Washington’s contemporaries described him as a man who was supremely concerned with virtue and exhibited the qualities of a disciple, always watchful of his motives, thoughts, feelings, words and actions. The most influential of America’s Founders – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin – were products of The Enlightenment and knew that only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.
The question for Trump is, if he took a time machine back to 1783 and had the choice to become the world’s newest king, or lay down his sword – what would he have done? I will let you come to your own conclusion.
In contrast, whenever Trump defends himself against criticism, he reflexively tells us how we should think of him. He tells the press, “I don’t think so,” or “I am the greatest,” or “Anyone who knows me knows I am right.” I-I-I. Trump acts as if he is his own judge, and above outside criticism. That is an attribute of a ruler, not a public servant.
Trump, and the other candidates would do well to remind themselves that they are not running for king or competing to be CEO, but instead are vying for the American presidency, which is an office of public service, not a trophy.
Allergic to Apology
On NBC’s Meet The Press, host Chuck Todd gave Trump an opportunity to rehabilitate his image among the 53% of voters who are women. Todd asked The Donald if he would apologize to Megyn Kelly.
Todd opened the door to redemption, but The Donald refused to walk through it, and said he would not apologize to Kelly. When Todd remarked to Trump that it appeared he had an allergy to making apologies, Trump said that he does apologize when he is wrong, but he wasn’t wrong with regard to the comments he made about Kelly. In fact, he attempted to turn the tables and deflect with the political correctness argument.
It won’t work, because of Trump’s lack of presidential temperament, no one is buying what The Donald is selling anymore, except for a small group of angry protesters holed-up inside the ideological Trump Tower fortress, a term coined by David Brooks.
Trump Will Bow Out a Winner
Any successful GOP candidate for president needs the votes of married women and independent voters, and at this point he has lost their support and there is no way Donald Trump can secure the Republican presidential nomination.
To be sure, Trump’s candidacy was a long-shot to begin with, and he has done nothing to improve his chances. The Donald’s parade of major gaffes, inability to debate serious policy, inability to counter criticism without resorting to personal attacks on adversaries and the ease at which he becomes unhinged at being asked tough questions have all accumulated into a critical mass that has irrevocably impaired his appeal to the unaffiliated and women voters he would need to win.
I suspect Trump knows this. For all of his bullying, bombast, ego and tone deafness, he’s not stupid.
Keeping in mind David Brooks’ insight, that Trump divides the world into winners and losers, I predict The Donald will find a way to leave the race while preserving the patina of being a “winner.”
Some expect him to run as a third-party candidate, anticipating that he can win by leveraging the anger of a conservative minority into a larger movement. In fact, when Trump selfishly refused to swear off a third-party candidacy in the first question of the debate, one could only see it as a negotiating ploy to blackmail the GOP. By leaving a third-party bid open, Trump all but threatened Republicans to find a way to give him the nomination or face the consequences of meeting him yet again in the general election.
A third-party campaign, however, is nothing more than a bluff from the man who considers himself a master negotiator. Trump must know the universal failure rate of third-party candidacies (Colorado voters can look to Tom Tancredo’s third-party run for governor in 2012 as an example). Although it must be tempting for Trump to take revenge on the GOP for not giving him the respect he believes he deserves, losing on a third-party ticket would make him, well…a loser. And that does not compute for him.
A three-way race involving Trump would almost certainly install a Democrat in the White House in 2016, a scenario that is making rank-and-file Republicans increasingly nervous. There are signs this rising anxiety is beginning to erode his support.
In a CNN focus group involving undecided Iowa Republican voters, Trump was the biggest loser in the Fox News primetime GOP debate. Participants pointed to Trump’s willingness to run as a third-party candidate as a “turnoff.”
One GOP participant, 53-year old realtor Karen Converse said this:
“The more he talks, the less I like him. He’s making the other candidates look better, he’s making them look credible.”
Coming in anything less than first place in Iowa or New Hampshire, states where it is highly likely he will not win, will make him what he so desperately says he is not – a “loser.”
Trump has only one option to exit on top. Instead of facing the prospect of being rudely broomed-off the political stage by the clown at the Apollo Theater on amateur night, Trump, or someone close to him, will suddenly come down with an illness or injury that will require him to drop out of the race, ostensibly to take care of him or her.
I can see it now. Trump will say: “My dear friend was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. I have hired the best doctors money can buy, doctors from the best medical schools all over the world. They are working day and night to save my friend. If you heard what the doctors have told me about his condition, it would shock you. It would make the hair on your head stand straight up. I am telling you this is serious as a heart attack, but I can’t even tell you if it is a heart attack due to privacy concerns. In fact, I can’t even tell you where he is being treated, because of the press who would mob the place, and I want to respect his privacy. I’ve never had to deal with this in my life. This is just too important, and there are plenty of other good candidates in the race. Maybe 2020 is for me? I don’t know, but I do know that without my focus, my friend will die. I couldn’t live with that on my conscience.”
Friend or family gets sick, Trump comes to the rescue and gracefully exits the limelight before he can be swept offstage, thus preserving his reputation as a “winner.”
Since Trump is a deal maker, let’s make a deal. If The Donald picks-up my face-saving idea, makes it his own and drops out of the race, then I will consider that payment enough and delete this blog post.
Cut and paste this one for posterity, because it is only a matter of time.