Mac Deford: Game Over — Hillary; Back to the White House. Trump; Back to the Locker Room.
Thursday, October 13, 2016 11:50 AM
Luckily for Donald Trump, the law of low expectations was operating during his second debate with Hillary this past Sunday night. After his performance the week before, which featured the bilious billionaire on low-energy auto-pilot, the fact that this time he was able to regurgitate some of the lines that had somehow been drilled into him was newsworthy indeed.
If you’re looking for ideal presidential traits, cool and unflappable must be pretty high on anyone’s list (except of course for Trump backers).
Of course, memorizing a few lines doesn’t assure you say them at the right time. Questioned, hardly surprisingly, on that 2005 p***y video (the media-preferred designation), he replied, “It’s locker-room talk, and it’s one of those things. I will knock the hell out of ISIS.” Referring to his past boasting about how he deals with women, and then jumping immediately to further boasting about how he’s going to deal with ISIS — talk about a non-sequitur. At least one hopes it’s a non-sequitur.
That choice of words he used to explain his behavior was particularly enlightening: “locker-room talk.” Indeed. But there’s locker-room talk when you’re 19 and locker-room talk when you’re 59. What Trump’s comments really sounded like were the awkward, wishful-thinking boasts of an uncool teenager trying — unsuccessfully — to ingratiate himself with the school jocks.
But by and large, compared to the first debate, he positively sparkled. There was, to be sure, a downside to his ability to actually respond to all the questions: it doubled the work of the debate fact-checkers. The Washington Post had a list of “25 interesting and suspect claims” from Trump. As it pointed out, “Hillary on occasion made a factual misstep, but it didn’t even compare to Trump’s long list of exaggerations.”
But let’s give the guy some credit: after the outing of the 2005 video two days earlier, the fact that Trump even showed up was a minor victory. There had been considerable media speculation — as the list of congressional Republican defectors grew — that he’d fold his tent and pass the buck to Mike Pence.
Trump apparently hoped to intimidate Hillary by inviting a couple of husband Bill’s ex-girlfriends. Maybe if he’d asked them to stand up and take a bow, it would have unnerved Hillary, but maybe not: she was cool and unflappable. For some reason, that demeanor — as opposed presumably to some warm, gushy type — is counted against her. But if you’re looking for ideal presidential traits, cool and unflappable must be pretty high on anyone’s list (except of course for Trump backers).
For all his self-congratulatory claims of success — the real estate huckster who says he’s worth $10 billion but refuses to release his tax returns to prove it — he basically comes across as a jerk from Queens trying to impress his upscale idols in Manhattan. He’s got an inferiority complex that is simultaneously amusing and pathetic, at least so long as it’s anchored in New York. Put it in the White House, it would be dangerous indeed. Richard Nixon writ large. Actually, an unfair comparison: Nixon had decades of political and foreign policy experience balancing his hang-ups when he became president.
So what’s next? He’s doubled-down, in a mad Twitter frenzy, now that Paul Ryan has refused to campaign for him. He’s clearly going to stick it out till the bitter end — and a particularly bitter one it will be for the Republican Party.
He once had what seemed like a solid 40% of the electorate behind him, a mixture, on the one hand, of those who dislike Hillary more than they dislike him and, on the other, the frustrated white male who’s been left high and dry by the nearly decade-long economic doldrums on the heels of the generation-long evaporation of well-paid blue-collar jobs. His support has now tanked to 35% which, assuming he can even hold on to that, puts him in Barry Goldwater territory.
Hillary will win by a large margin in the Electoral College and quite an impressive one in the popular vote. Most political observers think such a Trump defeat will flip enough Senate seats to give the Democrats a majority. Even the large Republican majority in the House may be at risk — especially if more, and worse, Trump videos come to light. But, even if nothing further surfaces, the boastful groper has already split his party.
How the Republican Party re-creates itself, post-Trump debacle, will be next year’s political headlines. Paul Ryan clearly has leadership qualities, but how will he — or anyone — reign in the disaffected Trump loyalists?
Beating Trump hands-down, and then getting the country to unite behind Hillary’s victory, are two very distinct things. Trump voters are unhappy with where they believe the country is heading; many feel immigrants and minorities are shoving them aside. They are bitter. When their presidential choice is soundly beaten, they’ll be even more bitter.
President Obama has found it hard enough to govern in the face of an obstructionist Republican Congress that often opposes him, even when he’s pursuing policies they agree with, simply to prevent him from being seen as successful. With Hillary as president, such Republican behavior will be even more prevalent. That’s a discouraging prospect for the country as a whole — though nothing of course like the disaster a Trump presidency would unleash.
Come November 9th, the Trump sideshow will be over. It’ll be back to no-drama Obama for a couple of months and then four years at least of self-controlled Hillary. (Accompanied by un-self-controlled first First Gentleman Bill, who last week bad-mouthed Obamacare more effectively than Donald Trump.)
It’s hard to imagine Trump will disappear completely from the limelight, but he’ll certainly recede into the background. And I have to admit, I’ll miss him. There’s something about such a buffoon — like a weird neighbor who boasts of descent from the Marquis de Sade — that is faintly endearing.
So long, at least, as you know he’s never going to be president.