Photo from Associated Press/Scott Heppell
Last week, in the run-up to the Fox News debate, Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus made a request of the actually serious candidates on the stage: Do not engage Donald Trump. At the time, there was a lot of criticism about that, however, given the Kelly vs. Trump side show the GOP now has to contend with, Priebus was downright prescient. Being the quick, savvy, attention loving salesman that he his, Trump will use the stump to harumph and get sympathy from his disciples whether he deserves it or not.
When it comes to Megyn Kelly, and Trump supporters, that was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Put two bulldogs in a pit and there’s going to be a dirty fight whether it is warranted or not. (In this case, the record is fair game, but the questions should be couched less for sensationalism than not.) Less so for Rand Paul who also ignored the directive, but still, he sank in the polls after speaking the understood and tacet reality that was better left unsaid until AFTER the stage lights went down. No one else did, and they all got a poll bounce.
One of the reasons undoubtedly that Priebus gave the order was to give Trump enough rope to hang himself – which he did with a number of people who were on the fence about him in the hours following the debate when he let his mouth get ahead of his brain. Another reason may well have been strictly to deny him the attention he seeks with every minute he spends on television. That would start yet another chain reaction of outlandish behavior making him look less than presidential. Remember, to win, the political right needs not just the base, but a whole lot of swing voters for whom “looking presidential” is important. Priebus knows that. He also knows that the extreme conflict that results in train wrecks is not nearly as palatable to the general public as it is to the political class.
And so, Priebus asked the other candidates not to engage Trump in order to starve him of fodder to use on them. Not a bad idea given the attention Trump will garner where ever he is in the political landscape. However, it is what John Fund of National Review reported this week that gives even more reason to just ignore the megalomaniac:
When Roger Stone, one of the master practitioners of the Dark Side of the Political Force, resigns as Donald Trump’s strategist after 30 years of loyal service, you know something is up. Stone, who still calls Trump a friend, is circumspect about his reasons for leaving.
Publicly, he tweeted: “@realDonaldTrump didn’t fire me — I fired Trump. Diasgree [sic] with diversion to food fight with @megynkelly away core issue messages.” But Stone told friends on Saturday that Trump is “losing his grip on reality” and that “he has these yes-men around him,” according to Politico. “And now he’s living in a parallel world.”
Others close to The Donald agree. Kate Bohner, who, with Trump, co-authored Trump: The Art of the Comeback, told CNN “This is a Trump I haven’t seen before.” She went on to say: “I don’t want to hear about blood coming out of people’s eyes and certainly not what it morphed into on [CNN anchor Don] Lemon’s show.” In explaining how different Trump is now from the person with whom she worked, Bohner said: “Sometimes he seizes on one detail and won’t let it go. If I were his campaign adviser, I would have said, okay, you said it on the debate, stop, no more talking about this. Let’s just leave it in the green room and certainly no tweeting it at 3:49 a.m.”
It is unclear whether or not Priebus knew these details in advance, but given the food fight that has evolved since last Thursday with Fox News, let’s just say he saw something that others didn’t. In the great American blood sport known as “politics” Donald Trump would, could, will and does play dirty. He acts out in bids for attention, then gets offended when called out on his record. He says what the people WANT to hear without a clear cut plan for making that happen. The last time we had a presidential candidate do that, we ended up surrendering a war in the Middle East we had already won, getting a clear path to single payer health care that no one with a brain wanted, and watched the country be divided along racial lines when leaving race alone would eventually solve the problem.
Fundamentally transform…make America great again…welcome to the honey trap.
There are reasons for not outright engaging Donald Trump. Reince Priebus understands what they are and has counseled the other GOP candidates to avoid direct confrontation. Agree or disagree, this will keep good and worthy men from descending to food fight level, and destroying themselves in the process. In this way, the GOP maintains its hold on higher ground, such as it is, in actually discussing the issues rather than the personalities of the people involved. And in the end, isn’t that really what the primary season is about?
For a literary take on Trumpism and Trump Induced Stockholm Syndrome, Charles Cooke has a well-written piece. (And for once, this writer agrees with him.)