David has already flagged Lauren Fox’s amazing debrief piece coming out of Trump’s meeting with members of Congress this morning (incredibly proud of her work). It’s our feature piece. But there’s one part of that story I want to focus in on. Everything that happened in that meeting underscores Trump’s extreme ignorance and, just as importantly, extreme indifference to being ignorant. But the exchange about Hispanic support has a unique significance in the context of that meeting.
Trump was asked – not surprisingly and not unreasonably – what about your unpopularity with Hispanics voters and what about down-ballot races? Trump’s response: No, Hispanics love me!
This is obviously ridiculous on its face. The GOP is generally unpopular with Hispanics and Trump is personally unpopular with Hispanic Americans at a level that is historic and unprecedented. We know this from a limitless trove of public opinion data. As a factual matter, it’s no more ridiculous than the 12th Article of the Constitution Trump pledged to protect or numerous other examples of Trump nonsense. But it has a particular import here.
This was a private meeting, meant to reassure skittish members of Congress. A predictable and half way reasonable way to respond might have been, “Look, the border is important and it’s what our core voters care about. But we’ve got a plan to soften that opposition from Hispanic voters over coming months.”
Given everything we’ve seen, that wouldn’t be a terribly convincing response. But it would be a response that at least engaged the reality of the situation. If I were a Republican member of Congress and heard what Trump said, I’d be angry. And I strongly suspect many of them were. If I’m a GOP member of Congress I hear that and think, “Damn, you’ve got zero plan to ensure I don’t lose my job. I can’t even tell if you care. But you definitely haven’t even thought about it.”
That’s one thing to say to an interviewer to rebuff a question or say at a rally to give yahoo supporters something to say on Twitter. But in private, when people’s whose jobs and majorities are on the line need an answer, it’s different.
We often say that the GOP has collectively cast anchors from the world of empiricism and the reality based universe others inhabit. But even the biggest numskull in the House, the biggest nonsense spewer is very, very empirical when it comes to getting reelected. And if they’ve been there for more than one term it’s something they usually know a good deal about, even ones who are incurious and ignorant about most things or generally stupid by most definitions.
My late father used to always tell me “You can’t kid a kidder.” You can’t bullshit a bullshiter. Politicians are consummate bullshiters. But they want real answers on this one very specific question. When that’s Trump’s answer, his real answer in private, to a serious and for some Republicans existential danger, it’s immediately clear there’s no there there, no net, no back-up plan, nothing but a jackass riffing and talking the way he does when he’s trying to get a mark to sign on the dotted line. That’s fine about global warming, Putin, ISIS, virtually anything. But politicians need to get reelected. That’s real. I have great confidence that many of the electeds in that room weren’t just dumbfounded by the Hispanics response. They were mad.