What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at Trump Doral golf course in Miami, Florida, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)


Mitch McConnell is getting a lot of attention this morning for his startlingly candid admission, in a new Bloomberg Politics podcast, that Donald Trump “doesn’t know a lot about the issues” and has not displayed the requisite “seriousness of purpose” for the presidency. And it certainly is clarifying to have the top Senate Republican admit this about the party’s standard bearer.

But McConnell’s quotes are actually more illuminating for what they tell us about today’s GOP, and about the true nature of the decision by many Republicans to support Trump in spite of his bigotry, pathologically abusive tendencies, and temperament that’s dangerously unfit for the job. Here’s what McConnell said:

“He needs someone highly experienced and very knowledgeable because it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t know a lot about the issues,” McConnell said. “You see that in the debates in which he’s participated. It’s why I have argued to him publicly and privately that he ought to use a script more often — there is nothing wrong with having prepared texts.”…
“For all of his obvious shortcomings, Donald Trump is certainly a different direction, and I think if he is in the White House he’ll have to respond to the right-of-center world which elected him, and the things that we believe in. So I’m comfortable supporting him,” McConnell said.
But his attacks on ethnic groups and fellow Republicans need to end, the lawmaker said. “I object to a whole series of things that he’s said — vehemently object to them. I think all of that needs to stop. Both the shots at people he defeated in the primary and these attacks on various ethnic groups in the country.”…
“I think he’d have a much better chance of winning if he would quit making so many unfortunate public utterances and stick to the script,” he said. McConnell said he delivered that message in person when the two were in the green room together at the recent National Rifle Association convention in Louisville.
“I said, ‘Hey Donald, you got a script?’ and he pulled it out of his pocket. He said, ‘You know I hate scripts, they’re so boring.’ And I said, ‘Put me down in favor of boring. You’ve demonstrated that you have a lot of Twitter followers and you’re good at turning on a big audience. Now you need to demonstrate you have the seriousness of purpose that is required to be president of the United States, and most candidates on frequent occasions use a script.’ So we’ll see whether that’s something he’s capable of doing.”

This is fascinating stuff on many levels. Note that McConnell “vehemently objects” to Trump’s attacks on various ethnic groups, but will continue to support him provided he reads from a prepared script that no longer includes such attacks — in other words, provided Trump stops saying these things aloud.

Remember, Republicans have known what Trump really believes for many months. He launched his campaign deriding Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers, and rocketed to the top of the polls amid promises to ban Muslims from entry into the U.S. and flat out lies about the hordes of American Muslims supposedly celebrating 9/11. But now, two things have changed. Trump has secured the nomination, which has led many Republicans to endorse him as their standard bearer. At the same time, his bigotry and depravity are now receiving the searing level of media scrutiny that comes with a general election — even as the national electorate is now starting to tune in — both of which make those tendencies far more problematic for the GOP than they had previously been. McConnell hopes that Trump will mitigate this problem by refraining from saying this sort of thing in the future. But Trump’s bigotry and depravity cannot be put back in the bottle.

Also: McConnell admits there are legitimate doubts about whether Trump possesses the “seriousness of purpose” required for the presidency. Yet McConnell supported him, anyway. McConnell hopes that Trump can compensate for this deficit by reading from a “script,” which is quite an admission, albeit (perhaps) an inadvertent one.

Finally, McConnell gamely suggests that Trump will not go off the rails as president because he’ll “have to respond to the right-of-center world that elected him.” In other words, don’t worry, even if Trump is a dangerous sociopath, Republican lawmakers and voters will keep him in line. But by McConnell’s own admission, it remains to be seen whether Trump can demonstrate the requisite gravity for the job or even read from a damn script. If this is the case, why should anyone have faith that Trump will heed the “center right world” and remain within accepted norms as president? McConnell’s arguments are self-refuting.

Republicans have sought to deal with this basic problem by qualifying their support for Trump in various ways. Paul Ryan suggested at first he could not support Trump until he was persuaded that he will govern according to conservative principles, thus seeking to create the impression that his support is conditional. McConnell, in the Bloomberg podcast, suggested he could rescind his support at some point, which seems designed to do the same. But as Michael Gerson puts it, this will not do, given how serious a menace Trump is:

It is not a normal political moment. It is one of those rare times — like the repudiation of Joe McCarthy, or consideration of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the Watergate crisis — when the spotlight of history stops on a single decision, and a whole political career is remembered in a single pose. The test here: Can you support, for pragmatic reasons, a presidential candidate who purposely and consistently appeals to racism?

As Gerson concludes, if Republicans fail the test, “many of us will never be able to think about the Republican Party in quite the same way again.” I don’t really know whether the endorsement of Trump will taint GOP officials or the party in the long term. I also don’t think we should be treating Trump’s rise in a vacuum, as if GOP officials bear no complicity for creating the conditions for it. But ultimately, what is clear is that right now, this is an extraordinary moment for leading Republicans that cannot be managed with conventional rhetorical gamesmanship. McConnell has now demonstrated this quite clearly for all the world to see. His admissions should be seen as devastating — not just for Trump, but for the Republicans supporting him.


* RNC IS BUILDING A CAMPAIGN FOR TRUMP: Matea Gold reports that the Republican National Committee and its chair, Reince Priebus, are hard at work building a national campaign for Donald Trump, because he isn’t doing it himself:

Trump’s failure to build a truly national campaign has left it to the GOP to run one on his behalf, while also trying to extinguish the regular political brush fires set off by the unpredictable candidate….The real estate mogul’s operation has centered on his ability to gobble up news time with a stream of tweets, rallies and television hits, while largely outsourcing basic political functions such as fundraising and rapid-response efforts. He is leaning on the RNC even more as the race moves into the general-election phase, which requires intensive work to identify, persuade and mobilize voters.

What could go wrong?

* ELIZABETH WARREN THROWS SUPPORT TO CLINTON: Senator Warren endorsed Clinton on the Rachel Maddow show last night. Key quote:

“Hillary Clinton won. And she won because she’s a fighter, she’s out there, she’s tough.   And I think this is what we need. Look at who she is. For 25 years, she’s been taking the incomings….As a Democrat, one of the things that frustrates me the most is there are a lot of times we just don’t get in the fight….But you also ought to be willing to throw a punch.”

The case that will have to be made to Sanders supporters is that Clinton will fight to move the country in the direction of his vision, albeit not as ambitiously.

* WARREN TO MEET WITH CLINTON TODAY: James Hohmann scoops that they will meet this morning:

The women have had several conversations over the past month, including one that lasted around half an hour….The conversations were broad and focused on large topics and issues, rather than the nitty-gritty of the campaign….The meeting on Friday will only further fuel speculation about Clinton drafting Warren as her running mate on a historic all-female ticket.

One imagines Clinton will also talk to Warren about what her policy agenda should look like in the fall campaign and beyond.

Mr. Obama will be…cutting a path across white suburbs in the Midwest and Rust Belt and spending time in African-American communities in Mid-Atlantic States like North Carolina and Virginia. The president will reach out to independents and others in New Hampshire and Iowa, and rally young people, Hispanics and Asian-Americans in competitive states like Colorado, Florida and Nevada.

In the short term, of course, Obama will hopefully play a major role in rallying Sanders’s voters behind Clinton, given his popularity with Democrats, especially young ones.

* DEMS MOVE TO EXPAND THE MAP: NBC’s Kasie Hunt reports that the pro-Hillary Super PAC Priorities USA is going up on the air in North Carolina, and intends to spend $9 million there between now and election day. The ad running in the state is this one blasting Trump’s ridiculing of a disabled reporter.

The Clinton campaign, too, believes that Trump may put North Carolina in play — another indication of increasing confidence that the Donald will help Dems expand the map, perhaps even to places like Arizona and Georgia. Watch the ad buying in this regard.

* HERE’S WHY THIS ELECTION WILL BE VERY UGLY: Paul Krugman boils it down:

This is going to be mostly an election about identity. The Republican nominee represents little more than the rage of white men over a changing nation. And he’ll be facing a woman — yes, gender is another important dimension in this story — who owes her nomination to the very groups his base hates and fears. The odds are that Mrs. Clinton will prevail, because the country has already moved a long way in her direction. But one thing is for sure: It’s going to be ugly.

Don’t worry, folks, there are only five months to go.

* QUOTE OF THE DAY, TRUMP-WILL-NEVER-EVER-CHANGE EDITION: GOP strategist Mike Murphy, in an interview with John Harwood, explained why Trump won’t be elected president:

“To win what Trump would have to do is change the perception women have of him. Because white men are only a third of the electorate. So you can win them by 40 percent and it’s still not enough…He would need to dramatically change the perception people have of him now. And since Trump can’t change, I think his answer is less in political strategy and more in a team of shrinks to get him back into some sort of mentality where he understands he has to change.”

This would require Trump to entertain the possibility that his antics and depravity are alienating a lot of people, and it’s not clear he’s capable of doing that.