Has Donald Trump finally done it? Finally gone too far?
Coming from Trump, the comments seem more ridiculous than outrageous. And let’s not forget that, only a decade ago, Republicans ran an entire presidential campaign around a more pervasive and aggressive denigration of another decorated Vietnam combat vet’s service record. But whatever I think of it, will Trump’s latest outrage finally sink him with his growing ranks of supporters? I very much doubt it.
Let’s not forget: these are supporters who have cheered Trump as he’s called Mexicans rapists and criminals and all the rest. They don’t have delicate sensibilities. Let’s also not forget that these kinds of attacks on McCain (actually considerably uglier ones) have a long history among hard-core base Republicans, just the folks Trump is spiking with. They claim he had a lackluster career before his capture (some real truth in that) and they hint he may have been turned in some way by captors or betrayed his fellow POWs during his captivity (zero evidence for this). But even beyond the hard-core fringe that believes those things, McCain is just really not popular with base Republicans, especially not those who define themselves around the immigration issue. He’s the ultimate RINO. All of which is to say, if you’re someone who’s cheered to Trump’s clown car of aggression and derp over recent weeks, I see little here that will make you reconsider your enthusiasm. In fact, I see a lot that will make you see this as more of a brash truth-teller who won’t take any crap from the Republican establishment, the media or its favored leaders.
At the risk of stating the obvious, resurrecting Mitt Romney to denounce Trump or having Jeb or the increasingly hapless Reince Priebus do so is unlikely to shift this perception of what’s going on.
Trump’s shooting for 20% of the GOP primary electorate in a very crowded field where no other candidate beside Bush (with whom there is likely zero overlap in support) has shown any ability to break out from the pack. He’s a jerk and a clown and arrogant beyond belief; but he is media savvy. And he’s deploying that ability well to get toward his number.
Is Trump a joke? Of course, he is. But if we judge politicians by any other standard than their ability to garner votes and polling support, we’ll soon run out of candidates. If clowns are above your dignity to report on, find another line of work. Especially with this primary field. Trump isn’t a distraction or mere entertainment any more than the rest of the GOP field is. In fact, this version of his candidacy (I can imagine him running more as a Perot-type centrist figure in earlier cycles) is the logical end result of the Tea Party-ization of the GOP since 2009. Trump is running an angry, populist campaign focused on xenophobia and “I don’t care what you think” aggression against ‘the establishment’ and ‘elites’ of all stripes. To think that trash talk against an establishment favorite, who is only marginally relevant to the politics of the moment in any case, will upset that apple cart is to thoroughly misunderstand the politics of the moment. Trump is the Frankenstein’s Hair Monster, finally walking among us, who is the inevitable product of a decades long embrace of clown-show anti-establishmentism and the stoking of xenophobic and racial paranoia.