The ongoing one-sided feud between Donald Trump and Megyn Kelly over her totally appropriate question about the presidential candidate’s temperament given his past disparaging remarks about women is as fascinating as it is horrifying. While we haven’t heard anything from the Fox News host since Thursday’s debate, Trump has been all over the place simultaneously making things worse for political discourse and better for himself.
The Donald has said some of the most outrageous things a politician could say. He denigrated illegal immigrant Mexicans as “rapists.” He smeared a former prisoner of war who is now a U.S. senator and was the Republican Party’s 2008 presidential nominee. In Cleveland last week, Trump used a question about his disparaging comments about women to insult another woman by name. And in the raging controversy over his remark, he has stoked it further by going after Kelly for having the temerity to ask him a legitimate question.
In isolation, each comment should be disqualifying. They should have no place in our political discourse and are certainly not presidential. We do and should demand more from anyone seeking to be leader of the free world and be in our faces for up to eight years. Look, I get it. For many, so-called political correctness is constriction of speech. But there’s not wanting to bow to “political correctness” and then there is willful pandering to the hate-filled anger that once roiled below the surface but now churns openly on the far right.
And it is paying off for The Donald. With every putrid utterance, Trump has gone up in the polls. Like most everyone else in the Acela corridor, I’m mystified by Trump’s willingness to contribute to and politically profit from the steep decline in civility. As a guest host of MSNBC’s “UP with Steve Kornacki” on Saturday, I called in the ultimate Trump Whisperer to help make sense of all this.
Omarosa Manigault, who appeared in 75 episodes over three seasons of Trump’s hit reality television show “The Apprentice,” believes Trump was “spectacular” in the debate. The die-hard Democrat who jokingly said she has “Hillary Clinton tattooed on my left arm,” also said that “there’s a different analysis and metrics you have to use” when analyzing the Big Apple billionaire’s appeal.
“Reality television has now taken over television. People want to see real moments and see life unfold in front of them. Not scripted, but real moments,” Omarosa said. When I pushed back and asked whether the reality TV ethos should be bleeding into presidential politics, she set me straight.
“[W]hen you have a big reality TV star as the front-runner for the Republican nomination there is no way to separate it. This is the new reality. Donald Trump is the front-runner and you have to deal with everything that comes with it,” Omarosa said. “He’s going to have to give his position on serious issues and he may also call people pigs but that’s part of the Trump thing that comes with the package.”
Calling Trump the “Tiger Woods of politics” because the record-breaking debate has engaged people otherwise not interested in politics or the Republican Party, Omarosa asked, “Can we stop trying to write the Donald Trump obituary? He’s not going anywhere. He has staying power.”
I wish I could argue otherwise, but I can’t.
Joseph McQuaid, the publisher of New Hampshire’s Union Leader newspaper, put it best in the New York Times over the weekend. “Trump’s base is more the people who used to have season tickets to the Roman Colosseum,” he said. “Not sure that they vote in great numbers, but they like blood sport.”
The 2012 Republican presidential field was derided as a clown car, what with improbable candidates such as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain able to claim having been front-runners for the nomination. Without question, the 2016 field is stronger, with a former Fortune 20 chief executive, four sitting governors, five former governors, four sitting senators, one former senator and a neurosurgeon. But the packed car this year is being driven by a clown.
As long as the other candidates and the party allow reality television rules apply to the 2016 campaign, Trump will come out on top.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj