An article in the Washington Post on Thursday summed up the current mood in the Republican Party:
Turmoil in the Republican Party escalated Wednesday as party leaders, strategists and donors voiced increased alarm about the flailing state of Donald Trump’s candidacy and fears that the presidential nominee was damaging the party with an extraordinary week of self-inflicted mistakes, gratuitous attacks and missed opportunities.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was described as “very frustrated” with and deeply disturbed by Trump’s behavior over the past week, having run out of excuses to make on the nominee’s behalf to donors and other party leaders, according to multiple people familiar with the events.
On the other side of the country, the Los Angeles Times published a similar report with one additional thought: that party leaders and serious, senior lawyers had begun to discuss “what to do if their unpredictable nominee suddenly quit the race.” The Times acknowledged that such a development was extremely unlikely but observed that the fact of it even being discussed was a measure of the growing panic in Republican ranks.
Trump’s missteps and misstatements, large and small, have been so frequent that it requires some concentration just to keep track of them:
- an extended quarrel with the family of a soldier killed in action
- a pointed refusal to endorse House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Sen. John McCain in their GOP primaries
- a confused grasp of Russian aggression in Ukraine and the response of the United States and our NATO allies
- making a false claim that he had received a letter from the NFL concerning the schedule of his debates with Clinton.
- demanding that a mother and her crying baby leave a rally.
Taken together, they amount to what George Will termed “immunity through profusion:”
He seems to understand that if you produce a steady stream of sufficiently stupefying statements, there will be no time to dwell on any one of them, and the net effect on the public will be numbness and ennui.
Still the immunity may have its limits. In today’s Washington Post, conservative icon Charles Krauthammer weighed in with a devastating critique of Trump’s psychological makeup:
I used to think Trump was an 11-year-old, an undeveloped schoolyard bully. I was off by about 10 years. His needs are more primitive, an infantile hunger for approval and praise, a craving that can never be satisfied. He lives in a cocoon of solipsism where the world outside himself has value — indeed exists — only insofar as it sustains and inflates him.
Krauthammer, it may be noted, is not only a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, but a physician board-certified in psychiatry.
Even before last week, the media had begun to collect the names of prominent Republicans who had not only announced their inability to support Trump but expressed their support for Clinton. This week the list was expanded by the notable addition of Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard and the GOP candidate for Governor of California in 2012. (See Aaron Blake in the Washington Post, “Meg Whitman just joined the list of Republicans for Hillary—and the list is growing fast.”) If Trump’s relationship with Paul Ryan deteriorates further, expansion of the list may accelerate. On Thursday, Ryan again criticized Trump and, when asked if he might be forced to withdraw his endorsement, he did not reply directly but observed pointedly that endorsements were not blank checks. In the meantime, Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence appeared to distance himself from his leader by offering an enthusiastic endorsement of Ryan.
For his part, Trump purported to be untroubled. Indeed, the Tweeter-in-Chief blithely twittered that “There is great unity in my campaign, perhaps greater than ever before.” This, however, drew a responsive tweet citing a report from CNBC’s John Harwood:
I exchanged messages Tuesday evening with a longtime ally of Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, whom I asked about who was calling the shots in the campaign. The response indicated that Manafort, a veteran of Republican politics brought in this spring for the transition from primaries to the general election, has lost control over his candidate.
“Manafort not challenging (Trump) anymore,” Manafort’s ally wrote. “Mailing it in. Staff suicidal.”
Nevertheless, amid all the turmoil, it was reported that Trump and the RNC had received $82 million in campaign contributions in July, only slightly below Clinton’s $90 million. Trump ended the month with $74 million on hand, suggesting that he might now have the resources to compete with Clinton in the closing stretch of the campaign. The contributions were reported to be largely from small donors and represented an impressive achievement that we find almost as puzzling as it is depressing. It may well slow the defection of Republican leaders who retain the hope that, if Trump can somehow become acquainted with discipline and focus, and “stay on message,” the ship can be righted and the hated Hillary vanquished. In our view, that hope is misplaced. To begin with, lobotomies have largely gone out of fashion and we doubt that any lesser measures would be sufficient to change the Trump persona.
Moreover, while there are ample grounds to oppose Hillary Clinton, we have not found her as categorically unacceptable as many of our brethren have. In this connection, we thought that Tom Friedman’s column in the New York Times, provided a useful and remarkably candid insight. Urging Clinton to adopt a pro-growth agenda, Friedman began by pointing out the weakness of the Democrats’ economic message. Friedman is hardly a Republican spokesman, but his analysis would have fit comfortably on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal:
If there is one thing that is not going to revive growth right now, it is an anti-trade, regulatory heavy, socialist-lite agenda the Democratic Party has drifted to under the sway of Bernie Sanders. Socialism is the greatest system ever invented for making people equally poor. Capitalism makes people unequally rich, but I would much rather grow our pie bigger and faster and better adjust the slices than redivide a shrinking one.
He then made the political point:
There are a lot of center-right, business Republicans today feeling orphaned by Trump. They can’t vote for him — but a lot of them still claim they can’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary, either. Clinton should be reaching out to them with a real pro-growth, start-up, deregulation, entrepreneurship agenda and give them a positive reason to vote for her.
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If Trump continues to melt down into a puddle of bile, more and more Republicans will be up for grabs. With the right pro-growth economic policies, Clinton would have an opening to not only enlist them to help her win, but to build a governing coalition for the morning after.
Will Clinton follow Friedman’s advice? We wouldn’t want to bet a lot of money on it, but we will watch carefully and hopefully.
In a different vein, another column from the Times deserves special mention. Nicholas Kristof does not ordinarily deal in humor, but on Thursday he turned out a brilliant spoof as hilarious as any we have seen in a long time, “Donald Trump and a C.I.A. Officer Walk Into a Room.”
Thus far, Trump has proved as impervious to humor as to reason and fact-checking, no doubt because self-parody (somewhat like the immunity through profusion) provides a stout defense. We don’t suppose that Kristof’s riff will change that, but it is fun and we urge readers who missed it to follow the link above and enjoy it.
Finally, to close with a bit of encouraging political news, we look away from the Trump campaign and turn to, of all places, Kansas. Congressman Tim Huelskamp, a prominent member of of the Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus, was defeated in the Republican primary. In his six-year tenure in the House, Huekskamp was best known for obstructionist tactics that had made him a consistent thorn in the side of Speaker John Boehner. His defeat was a victory for the Republican “establishment,” the Chamber of Commerce and anyone who thinks that cooperation is a useful skill for an elected official.