One of those candidates — for years a reliable source of pop-culture comic relief — has managed to detonate his campaign, and threaten to implode the Republican brand, before the thing’s even started.
Donald Trump, trainwreck
The Verge reported. Twice.
It didn’t last long, of course, but it couldn’t be more symbolic of the self-inflicted PR wounds of our reigning carnival barker on steroids, a man whose presidential campaign is nothing more or less than an advertisement for himself.
Trump reignited his never-ending campaign for relevance on June 16, when he formally declared. But the stage and the rhetorical tone were set in earlier speeches, in Phoenix and Las Vegas. We should have known what was coming.
Even before his announcement, the style and bombastic tendencies of The Donald had grievously wounded not just his own presidential bid, but also damaged the GOP’s still-tender hunt for a fresh message and identity. The probable end of the Trump campaign arrived before the certain beginning.
At his formal announcement, at Trump Tower in Manhattan. his longtime embrace of passive-aggressive rhetorical intolerance continued. In several breathtakingly tone-deaf statements, Trump managed to condemn the Mexican people en masse for a host of social ills common to modern times on the long border between the United States and Mexico.
“When do we beat Mexico at the border?” Trump said. “They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us.
“They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and some I assume are good people, but I speak to border guards, and they tell us what we are getting," he said. Doubling down on dumb, and stealing a page from the Herman Cain 2012 campaign playbook, Trump said he’d build a “great wall” between the United States and Mexico.
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THE REACTION was swift and visceral. Days later, NBC, responding to reaction from Hispanic groups, said the network would not air the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants co-owned by Trump. Univision, which broadcasts Spanish-language content to millions of U.S. Hispanics, had already pulled the plug on covering the pageants. Other companies bailed on him too.
“With one short speech about us,” Los Angeles advertising executive Roberto Orci said to NPR, “he tarred the entire Latino culture as being rapists and murderers and terrorists.”
Probably emboldened by a poll that showed him at the top of the early GOP leaderboard, Trump then went on to, well, trump himself. On Saturday, at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Trump suggested that Arizona Sen. John McCain, imprisoned for five years at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, was something less than a veteran worthy of the respect accorded to everyone serving this nation in uniform.
“He's not a war hero,” Trump said. “He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured.”
“I believe perhaps he is a war hero,” he said later, “but right now — he said some very bad things about a lot of people.”
But the damage was done. The Donald’s comments took a serious beatdown in the mainstream media and also among ops in the Republican National Committee.
“Senator McCain is an American hero because he served his country and sacrificed more than most can imagine. Period. There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably.“ said RNC communications director Sean Spicer in a statement.
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And if Trump’s slagging of Mexico and certain American veterans was meant to capitalize on a recent poll that suggested the GOP primary electorate is tired of professional politicians and ergo ready for a fresh breeze, like Trump — he was disabused of that notion by another, more important poll on Tuesday.
That’s when The Des Moines Register, flagship paper of the state of Iowa (that primary primary state next year), published an editorial that could be the first nail in the coffin, or the last, of the Trump 2016 presidential campaign.
“If he were merely a self-absorbed, B-list celebrity, his unchecked ego could be tolerated as a source of mild amusement. But he now wants to become president, which means that he aspires to be the leader of the free world and the keeper of our nuclear launch codes.
“That is problematic, because Trump, by every indication, seems wholly unqualified to sit in the White House. If he had not already disqualified himself through his attempts to demonize immigrants as rapists and drug dealers, he certainly did so by questioning the war record of John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona.” ...
“His comments were not merely offensive, they were disgraceful. ... “He has become ‘the distraction with traction’ — a feckless blowhard who can generate headlines, name recognition and polling numbers not by provoking thought, but by provoking outrage.”
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WE’VE KNOWN forever that Trump has a nationalistic streak and a willingness to play the vilification card whenever he can; that explains his ad hominem comments about Mexico and Mexicans. And we’ve known for a while that Trump he was "not a big fan of the Vietnam War." That’s why he got multiple draft deferments during that war to stay out of it.
The first, earlier comments from Trump were more or less expected, because he’s said similarly outrageous things about people before.
But his comments about a military veteran both contradict some of the Republican Party’s sturdiest philosophical scaffolds — an almost reflexive support for the nation’s military, and an equally automatic respect for those who’ve already borne the battle — and further alienate the Republican party from the Latino voters they will need to win in 2016.
Trump’s defenders include Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and radio windbag and former recreational pharmaceutical enthusiast Rush Limbaugh. “Trump can survive this. Trump is surviving this. You know, this is a great, great teachable moment here,” Limbaugh said on July 20, en route to a disquisition about the media and how they “make the mistake of assuming that the collective outrage of the Washington establishment and the media is reflective of American public opinion. That's an automatic conclusion that everybody draws.”
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LIMBAUGH MAY actually be right about that, for now. The results of some of the latest polls on 2016 race suggest that Trump has temporarily defied political gravity. In a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, Trump leads all comers with 24 percent support, followed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (13 percent) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (12 percent).
Whatever those results are, it’s a problem for the party leadership. For now a GOP Gang of 15 faces a big early perceptual challenge: how to get voters to think of the Republican brand without thinking of #16, the Republican bloviator who’s damaging their candidacies by association across the board.
The populist plain speaking that is the modern GOP base's building block for winning in 2016 is being cynically defined and dangerously compromised by the Donald Trump campaign, gaffes and bluster and all.Whether party leaders believe/like it or not, a multimillionaire attention addict with no legislative agenda and the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the head is dominating the news cycle, using all the available media oxygen, and leading the early field of presumably serious Republican candidates for the presidency of the United States.
Image credits: Trump top: Associated Press/Jim Cole. Trump lower: Associated Press/John Locher. NBC logo: © 2015 NBCUniversal. Des Moines Register logo: © 2015 Gannett. Limbaugh: Via Fox News. Trump cartoon: © 2015 Randall Enos.