The Donald Trump Show (Boffo)

Donald Trump awaits his introduction at the 2005 launch of Trump University. (Detail of photo by Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press.)

Again we hear the refrain wondering whether presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has finally gone too far. The answer, of course, is invested in who marks the threshold, and in the end voters have the final word, or so to speak. GOP consultant and fierce Trump critic Rick Wilson appears quite correct when he says a leaked conference call tells us the Trump Univesity lawsuit “really bothers” his party’s apparent nominee. And while Wilson’s critique that “there is no campaign” actually sounds about right under the circumstances―hint: more than the conference call, perhaps the msnbc article with the straightforward title, “Donald Trump does not have a campaign”, explains the problem better― NYT deputy Washington editor Jon Weisman is even more blunt: “The leaks in this boffo @bpolitics piece,” he tweets, “show @RealDonaldTrump doesn’t understand he’s playing in the majors now.”

And boffo fits well enough; the Bloomberg Politics piece describes a Monday conference call between Mr. Trump and prominent supporters:

An embattled Donald Trump urgently rallied his most visible supporters to defend his attacks on a federal judge’s Mexican ancestry during a conference call on Monday in which he ordered them to question the judge’s credibility and impugn reporters as racists.

Which sounds about right, all things considered, except that’s when things start to go off the rails:

When former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer interrupted the discussion to inform Trump that his own campaign had asked surrogates to stop talking about the lawsuit in an e-mail on Sunday, Trump repeatedly demanded to know who sent the memo, and immediately overruled his staff.

“Take that order and throw it the hell out,” Trump said.

Told the memo was sent by Erica Freeman, a staffer who circulates information to surrogates, Trump said he didn’t know her. He openly questioned how the campaign could defend itself if supporters weren’t allowed to talk.

“Are there any other stupid letters that were sent to you folks?” Trump said. “That’s one of the reasons I want to have this call, because you guys are getting sometimes stupid information from people that aren’t so smart.”

The moment led to an interesting headline from the New York Times: “Donald Trump Belittles Staff in Flap Over Judge Comments”. The estimable Maggie Haberman added a curious detail:

Jan Brewer, the former governor of Arizona, confirmed that she was on a call to discuss a memo that had been sent by the campaign. That memo, disseminated by Erica Freeman, who handles surrogate matters for the campaign, advised allies not to address the lawsuit anymore with reporters, and to let it play out in court. Mr. Trump has been roundly criticized by Republicans, including his own supporters, for the remarks suggesting that the Indiana-born Mr. Curiel is a “Mexican” who is negatively predisposed against the presumptive Republican nominee and should not be presiding over the case.

But Ms. Brewer said, “Those harsh comments, I don’t recall them being that harsh.”

Something about the eye of the beholder goes here; the assessment is invested in who marks the threshold. There is a reasonable suggestion that demeaning one’s staff is something of a Beltway ritual; I used to joke among friends that Rand Paul waited too long to blame his staff for plagiarizing Wikipedia, but the excuse requires that Rand Paul’s staff isn’t smart enough to figure these things out. But Rand Paul is his own unique issue. Donald Trump, as well, is his own unique issue; perhaps Ms. Brewer has a point insofar as for bluster, braggadocio, and bully, it doesn’t really stand out compared to the rest of Mr. Trump’s noise. Still, though, in ritual terms the staff knows it’s coming; when their boss gets in trouble it will be pushed off as if they are stupid. Donald Trump, however, comes right out and says it, because “you guys are getting sometimes stupid information from people that aren’t so smart”.

To stop and think about it, though, remember, this is just one aspect of the weirdness; Chris Cillizza cobbled together a list of the six “best quotes” from the “bizarre” conference call, and while there is nothing particularly new there, except perhaps the WaPo writer’s bouts with bits of obvious and observable notions that very nearly cannot fail to sound humorous―

1. ‘We will overcome.’

This is Trump talking about all of the negative publicity he’s gotten over the past few days―much of it from inside the GOP―for his comments about federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel. Is it possible he used this phrase―made famous during the civil rights movement―accidentally rather than in an attempt to draw a parallel between his struggles and those that black Americans faced? Um …

―it really does seem the Trump University suit is getting to the de facto leader of the Republican Party. And while it seems easy enough to note that of all the contradictions about Donald Trump’s support base―

In blunt testimony revealed on Tuesday, former managers of Trump University, the for-profit school started by Donald J. Trump, portray it as an unscrupulous business that relied on high-pressure sales tactics, employed unqualified instructors, made deceptive claims and exploited vulnerable students willing to pay tens of thousands for Mr. Trump’s insights.

One sales manager for Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, recounted how he was reprimanded for not pushing a financially struggling couple hard enough to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class, despite his conclusion that it would endanger their economic future. He watched with disgust, he said, as a fellow Trump University salesman persuaded the couple to purchase the class anyway.

“I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” Mr. Schnackenberg wrote in his testimony, “and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”

(Barbaro and Eder)

―the proposition of such anti-institutional fervor investing in some odd Tea & Crumpet argument for the sake of ignoring that Mr. Trump is the epitome of everything about with the “billionaire class” is not in itself surprising. But Mr. Trump has sewn up the GOP nomination as far as votes are concerned; his focus now ought to be the larger electoral market. Rick Wilson: "That Trump conference call tells you: 1) this Trump U case reallly bothers him 2) there is no campaign 3) there is no better trump." (via Twitter, 6 June 2016) And while we might say what we will about the testimony of former employees who participated at all in this sort of thing, confirmation bias is not required in order to observe that the Trump business reputation is notorious.

This is a fun question: Is Donald Trump lashing out at Judge Curiel, reporters, and his campaign staff (A) a means of rallying the base against discouraging circumstances, (B) commiserating with the base after a bruising round, or (C) falling back to the only thing he really knows?

Or, as Rick Wilson put it, “There is no better Trump”.

Okay, fair point: It’s not a fun question.


Image note: Donald Trump awaits his introduction at the 2005 launch of Trump University. (Detail of photo by Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press.)

Barbaro, Michael and Steve Eder. “Former Trump University Workers Call the School a ‘Lie’ and a ‘Scheme’ in Testimony”. The New York Times. 31 May 2016.

Cillizza, Chris. “The 6 best quotes from Donald Trump’s bizarre conference call, ranked”. The Washington Post. 6 June 2016.

Cirilli, Kevin, Michael C. Bender and Jennifer Jacobs. “Trump Orders Surrogates to Intensify Criticism of Judge and Journalists”. Bloomberg. 6 June 2016./p>

Haberman, Maggie. “Donald Trump Belittles Staff in Flap Over Judge Comments”. The New York Times. 6 June 2016.

Sarlin, Benjy, Katy Tur and Ali Vitali. “Donald Trump does not have a campaign”. msnbc. 6 June 2016.

Tomorrow, Tom. “This Modern World: The Tea & Crumpets Party”. (21 September 2010). ArtVoice. 23 September 2010.

Weisman, Jon. “The leaks in this boffo @bpolitics piece show @RealDonaldTrump doesn’t understand he’s playing in the majors now”. Twitter. 6 June 2016.

Wilson, Rick. “That Trump conference call tells you”. Twitter. 6 June 2016.

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