Among the challenges presented by the mere proposition that anyone should take the Donald Trump Show seriously are, first, that such considerations should be necessary, and also that as such spectacular pretenses of scandal swirl around the Consummate Clown’s candidacy, few will attend these aspects:
For a variety of pundits, this effectively marked the end of Trump’s campaign – it was the ultimate flame out, the argument goes, for a narcissistic candidate who simply can’t control his impulses.
And those assumptions may very well prove to be true, but I wouldn’t bet on it just yet.
Keep in mind, right-wing hostility towards McCain is quite common, despite his conservative voting record, so Trump’s classless rhetoric may not necessarily be a deal-breaker with the GOP base. Indeed, at the Iowa event, after Trump made his remarks, he left the stage to a standing ovation – if the party activists in attendance were offended by what they heard, they didn’t show it.
We’ll have to wait for the next round of polling, but it’s hardly a foregone conclusion that Trump has burst his own balloon.
As for the larger context, I remain eager to hear Republicans explain the selectivity of their outrage. When Donald Trump relies on racism to advance his ambitions, GOP officials tolerate his antics, but when Trump criticizes John McCain, that’s a bridge too far? By what standard is that acceptable?
For that matter, if Republican leaders want to argue that attacks on Americans’ military service are simply beyond the pale, perhaps party officials can take this opportunity to apologize to John Kerry, who was smeared by Swiftboat lies in the 2004 cycle – lies that were celebrated at the time by 2016 candidates like Jeb Bush and Rick Perry – and who saw the spectacle at the Republican National Convention of party activists mocking Purple Hearts. While they’re it, Republicans can express some regret for related smears directed at former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.).
Perhaps this is Donald Trump’s greatest service to the Republican Party. That it will hurt is its own question. For while some might rush to Mr. Trump’s aid and suggest he has some sort of point, be it about Mexicans or McCain or whatever, it is also important to take note of why so many conservatives would rather take a middling path.
It is easy enough to suggest Mr. Trump’s candidacy represents the height of Republican anti-intellectualism, but that would only be to date, in any case. And there is much talk this cycle about the FOX News debate, which is virtually accepted as winnowing the field from seventeen candidates to ten according to national polling in such a manner they might as well simply draw lots; and it does seem true that instead of playing to state-level concerns as we have traditionally seen, candidates are passing on those issues and aiming to make headlines in order to boost national polling numbers. And while far too few make the note about the fact that these are conservatives shifting poiltical power within their ranks from state to national considerations, perhaps it is because that sparkling gem is actually beside the point. That is to say, enjoy it, but such incongruity can wait for another day; there are more important issues afoot.
The real problem for Republicans is that Mr. Trump’s reckless rhetoric is nothing more than an ill-expressed distillation of American conservatism. The arrogant, vicious bigotry is unwieldy even in its most artful expressions, and much like an old saying, it might be hard to define art affirmatively, but its absence is clear about Mr. Trump.
Image note: Republican presidential candidate, real estate mogul Donald Trump, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, 18 July 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Benen, Steve. “Trump has no regrets after smearing McCain’s service”. msnbc. 18 July 2015.