At the conclusion of Wednesday* night’s town hall with Donald Trump on MSNBC, the featured guest made pains to assert that he’d been through the wringer with “Morning Joe” duo Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. “It’s not easy,” said Trump. “It’s a lot of work. I mean, I’m here. I could be someplace else, to be honest with you. Okay, I’m being grilled by the two of you; I could be someplace else.”
“Grilled,” here, means a few signs of skepticism from the hosts plus several reasonably demanding questions. Like: “Will you make upholding the [Supreme Court’s] Heller decision a litmus test in Supreme Court nominees?” Like: “What do you replace [Obamacare] with?” The Republican front-runner also faced questioning about his claims about ringing early alarm bells over the Iraq War and about how he’d manage the federal government’s dispute with Apple over accessing the iPhone of a deceased terrorist.
Skepticism, questions, civil debate, issues — it’s all great. That long-standing road map, however, doesn’t work well with Donald Trump. One reason is because he’s fact-check-allergic, as he showed in the back-and-forth over Iraq, as he managed to repel yet another aggressive attempt to bust him out on his allegedly early Iraq War claims. Scarborough, just like colleague Chuck Todd on Sunday, noted that no one has been able to find evidence of Trump saying that the Iraq War was a bad idea before the March 2003 invasion.
Trump filibustered the matter, saying, in part, “I said the war is a disaster because you’re going to destabilize the Middle East. I said it long before 2003 but I’m not a politician,” he argued, suggesting that his remarks weren’t carefully recorded for history.
Soon enough, some tough-talking anchor is going to have to corner Trump on this one and refuse to continue on to other topics until Trump names all the people he informed of his early Iraq-invasion opposition.
The other reason for the journalistic shortfall in the Scarborough-Brzezinski town hall is Trump’s shameful record of racism, bigotry and rampant disrespect. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank summarized that record with this paragraph:
Since then, Trump led the “birther” movement challenging President Obama’s standing as a natural-born American; used various vulgar expressions to refer to women; spoke of Mexico sending rapists and other criminals across the border; called for rounding up and deporting 11 million illegal immigrants; had high-profile spats with prominent Latino journalists and news outlets; mocked Asian accents; let stand a charge made in his presence that Obama is a Muslim and that Muslims are a “problem” in America; embraced the notion of forcing Muslims to register in a database; falsely claimed thousands of Muslims celebrated the 9/11 attacks in New Jersey; tweeted bogus statistics asserting that most killings of whites are done by blacks; approved of the roughing up of a black demonstrator at one of his events; and publicly mocked the movements of New York Times (and former Washington Post) journalist Serge Kovaleski, who has a chronic condition limiting mobility.
Any hour-long session with Donald Trump that doesn’t ask him about those obscenities is a puff session. Allowing this fellow to pronounce on entitlement reform, strategies on the Islamic State, campaign tactics, Iraq, Jeb Bush, health-care reform, gun rights, Supreme Court nominations and other such topics without grinding through an extensive accounting of his racism and bigotry is an outrage only sightly less egregious than the candidate’s own.
Yes, an audience member did ask Trump a question about civility: “My question is where do you think the line is between boldness and honesty, and disrespect and rudeness?” Ever the talented debater, Trump deflected the inquiry into some vague talk about how he handles the outbursts of people at his rallies. Scarborough jumped in and wondered if he’d have allies on Capitol Hill — again, showering legitimacy on the bigot seated in the middle of town hall.
*Correction: This post originally said the town hall was Thursday night.