He’s Melting… MELTING! The Strange Implosion of Donald Trump
Did somebody toss a bucket of water at his head? Suddenly Donald Trump is melting before our eyes, like the Wicked Witch of the West. Every day brings fresh news of eye-popping gaffes and head-slapping consternation among the Republican faithful. I can’t remember anything like it in presidential campaign politics. Even Michael Dukakis, the doomed 1988 Democratic nominee, survived respectably until November.
Trump was an unlikely nominee to begin with. He coasted to the Republican convention on sheer chutzpah. He had a genius for winging it, based on his own stratospheric self-confidence and a cheerful disdain for details. A political amateur and an unapologetic vulgarian, he also seemed refreshingly uninhibited, unscripted, un-PC, unafraid to speak his mind.
So what if he was vague (or downright ignorant) on policy issues, or prone to proposing extravagant follies like the Mexican wall, or blisteringly crass in his pronouncements on women, immigrants, journalists and anyone reckless enough to prick his monumental ego? Unlike most politicians, he told it like it is… right?
Here was a maverick billionaire (at least by his own reckoning) who would defy the crony capitalists — the elite global plutocrats who supported the likes of Obama, the Bushes and the Clintons. He’d singlehandedly terminate the stifling reign of political correctness and identity politics, halt the corporate outsourcing of American jobs, manage the deficit, stem the flow of illegal immigrants from Latin America and block those potentially dodgy Muslim refugees from countries that harbor terrorists. As he proclaimed in his acceptance speech, he’d even put an end to crime as soon as he took the oath of office. What’s not to like? (Well, plenty… but more about that later.)
Big man, big promises… big bluffer? I’ve concluded that Trump is more performance artist than politician. He wants to be president more than he wants to serve as president. Remember, he said he’d delegate both foreign and domestic policy to his vice president. Trump would simply be in charge of “making America great again.”
In my more cynical moments, I like to believe that the Clintons, ever-calculating and ravenous for power, persuaded their friend Donald to seek the Republican nomination. A non-ideologue with a flair for showmanship, he’d relish the attention and sow such discord within the GOP that the party would crumble before Hillary’s juggernaut.
I wonder if the Clintons began to squirm as Trump’s candidacy gathered momentum like a runaway truck rolling down a mountain road. By June he was already the presumptive nominee, his brassy brand gleaming more garishly than ever. What if he actually (gulp!) won the election come November? This wasn’t supposed to happen; it smacked of Broadway satire, the way Springtime for Hitler, the surefire dud concocted by the hapless con artists in The Producers, unexpectedly became a monster hit.
Always dogged by his own intemperate sound bites, usually taken out of context or willfully distorted by the pro-Hillary media, Trump started to implode during the Democratic convention. The trigger came without warning, but it was classic karma.
Trump had bragged about the sacrifices he’d made as a mega-rich businessman — even claimed that his risky youthful sexual adventures were his “Vietnam.” So what better way to needle the cocksure, Islamophobic chicken-hawk than to trot out the parents of a heroic Muslim-American soldier who gave his life in Iraq?
The dead soldier’s father, the dignified and articulate Khizr Khan, used his pulpit to lambaste Trump for his warped definition of “sacrifice,” not to mention his ignorance of the U.S. Constitution. It was strong stuff, and Trump took the bait. His retort was mild compared to the provocation; he simply wondered aloud if Khan’s wife declined to speak because she was required by her religion to be submissively silent.
Of course, Trump shouldn’t have taken the bait at all. Professional politicians learn to grow thick skins, and Trump’s is paper-thin. Immediately the chattering class pounced on him for insulting a patriotic Gold Star family. Then the deluge began: the accusations against Trump began to resemble the list of grievances leveled against King George III in the Declaration of Independence:
- He referred to Hillary Clinton as “the devil” (He actually said that Bernie Sanders “made a deal with the devil” by endorsing her)
- He invited Vladimir Putin to hack Democratic e-mails (a sarcastic comment referring to the DNC’s alleged plot to assure the nomination for Clinton)
- He didn’t know that Russia had already swiped Ukrainian territory (OK, geopolitics isn’t his strong suit)
- He declined to disclose his tax returns (Is he in debt to Russia, as some rumors have it? I’ll reserve judgment until the facts are in)
- He accepted a Purple Heart medal from a grateful veteran and quipped that this was the easiest way to get one (He was joking)
- He refused to endorse war hero and fellow-Republican John McCain in his re-election bid (McCain had criticized him)
- He balked at endorsing House Speaker and fellow-Republican Paul Ryan (the way Ryan balked at endorsing Trump)
- He further risked his Republican street cred by slamming the Koch brothers as donors to “political puppets” (Bully for him!)
- Last but not least, the insensitive brute ordered a crying baby out of his rally! (He handled it with humor, folks… you had to see the video)
I don’t mean to make excuses for Trump. He deserves much of the scorn and criticism heaped upon his famous thatched head. He’s rude, crude, narcissistic, demagogic and willfully ignorant. No matter how slight the slight against him, he must retaliate. His mannerisms during his acceptance speech eerily recalled the puffed-up posturing of Mussolini. He’s been luring white supremacists out of the woodwork. And yet…
He’s a victim, too. Now that Trump has secured the nomination (at least partly a result of generous coverage in the media), the media have been pouncing on him at every opportunity. They magnified the Khan flap until it overshadowed everything else about his campaign, yet they essentially ignored Hillary’s alleged brush-off of Pat Smith, mother of Benghazi victim Sean Smith. (Mrs. Smith returned the favor, calling Clinton “a liar” at the Republican convention.)
For that matter, the media have largely airbrushed the deeper implications of the news that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz, a former Hillary Clinton aide, effectively sabotaged Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Did she undermine Sanders with Hillary’s blessing? Did Clinton actually instruct her to spread damaging rumors about Sanders throughout the South? We’ll never know — unless Putin hacks those missing e-mails, of course.
Trump could have attacked Hillary Clinton’s vulnerable underside (an unfortunate image, but I can’t think of a better one)… yet instead of scoring valuable campaign points at her expense, he continued to wrestle verbally with his detractors. It was all about him and his image, as it always is. And he said a mouthful.
Merely to quote Trump’s words verbatim is to miss the often jocular nature of his loopy pronouncements… but of course politicians need to realize that their words will find their way into print or online, raw and unvarnished, without the video emoji of a wink or a smirk. Words can precipitate scandals, and scandals will kill a campaign.
Exasperated by Trump’s sillier and more damaging remarks, the Republican faithful are starting to jump ship. Bad enough that both Presidents Bush refused to attend Trump’s coronation, or that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also a Republican, endorsed Clinton at the Democratic convention. The exodus continues as more Republicans throw up their hands and head down the gangplank.
Rumors surfaced earlier this week that RNC Chair Reince Priebus, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich were actually planning to stage an “intervention” — a desperate attempt to talk sense with their foundering nominee. There was even talk of a contingency plan in case Trump dropped out of the race. Notable figures (including Obama, naturally) have warned us that Trump is temperamentally and intellectually unfit to be president.
Mother of Mercy, is this the end of The Donald?
What’s saddest about Trump’s unraveling campaign is that he had a chance to give a legitimate voice to that most despised and neglected American caste: poor, working-class and downwardly mobile white Americans. These earnest, Bible-believing provincials are the last demographic we still feel free to taunt with impunity. We call them rednecks, hillbillies, white trash — as if they have no value as fellow humans. They’ve had to watch helplessly as their jobs departed for Asia or Mexico… as liberal urban sophisticates mocked their religion or substandard spelling… as the LGBT community challenged their age-old morality… as the Ivy-educated children of black doctors and lawyers lectured them about white privilege. And they weren’t allowed to talk back.
Because lower-status whites didn’t have a voice, their bitterness seethed inwardly for years until it finally burst forth, with Obama’s ascendancy, in a half-demented eruption of race-hatred, gun-worship, religious fanaticism, Confederate flags and anti-government paranoia. The talk turned combustible, and Trump helped fan the flames.
A better, more sensitive man might have guided that talk so that it stopped short of racism or xenophobia… so that underprivileged whites and underprivileged blacks might have come to understand each other’s grievances and appreciate their common bonds. He might have calmed his constituency’s not-unreasonable fears of a Mexican Reconquista or an Islamist insurgency without demonizing innocent Mexicans and Muslims.
But Trump was only Trump: the brash, buoyant salesman with the insatiable ego and an arguable deficit of human empathy. Once the blinding flash of his primary campaign had faded, even his fellow Republicans began to feel the sting of buyer’s remorse.
At this point, the only person who can save Trump is Trump. And that might not be enough.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
Copyright 2016 by Rick Bayan.