The other night, I went to a dinner party. The guests were all friends of mine — a scattering of writers and some business people — and we talked about the ouster of Roger Ailes amid a sexual harassment scandal and wondered why he was awarded a multimillion-dollar settlement, and we talked about the travails of his boss, that incredibly incompetent manager Rupert Murdoch, who never knew his blokes in England were hacking phones and also did not know that his boys at Fox News were allegedly acting like goats, and we even talked about the wee fender bender I had the night before — a mere metallic kiss, so to speak — and how the estimated repair costs were astounding. But it was not until the next morning that I awoke stunned to realize that we had not talked about Donald Trump.
I called some of the previous night’s guests and asked them if they noticed anything strange about the night before. I was like Sherlock Holmes in the story “Silver Blaze,” noting that a stable’s watchdog had not barked as a racehorse was stolen. He called it “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time,” and it meant that the thief was known to the dog. Here, too, what did not happen was of maximum importance. My dinner-party pals are no focus group, of course, but it’s hard not to conclude that Trump is trending toward passe. He is the storm that has passed, the ominously predicted catastrophe, like the Y2K bug, which was supposed to cause all the world’s computers to go haywire at the year 2000. Nothing happened.
I am fully aware that I recently confessed a Trump addiction, a need to read everything I could about him. His candidacy was always a spectacle and, while it remains so, in the last week or so it veered into farce. This happened precisely when Hugh Hewitt, the conservative radio host, asked Trump if he was speaking allegorically when he had said President Obama was “the founder of ISIS.”
“I know what you meant,” Hewitt helpfully volunteered. “You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace.”
“No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS,” Trump insisted. “I do.”
Well, actually, Trump didn’t. But before he eventually allowed that he was being sarcastic, a day had passed, time for Trump to veer from eccentric and bombastic, from demagogic and nasty, to something else entirely: nuts. The man was saying something idiotic, something even Obama’s worst enemy knew was not true, and sticking to his guns when questioned. He looked and sounded unbalanced.
Trump’s undeniable achievement is to show us all that at the moral heart of the Republican Party lies crass opportunism. From the national chairman on down, countless members of the party have either endorsed Trump or gone silent. Some of them, such as Reince Priebus and the hapless Mike Pence, are the political equivalents of the guy who follows the circus elephants with a shovel. They are forever explaining or, when it is impossible to do so, simply ignoring. As for Pence, he must wake at night, drenched in sweat from a nightmare that his ticket has won. (“It’s all right, dear,” the devoted Karen Pence says. “I’ll read you the latest polls.”)
But Pence, Priebus and, yes, Paul Ryan are moral giants compared with the shrimps of the business community. Trump’s backers in the real estate industry and in the world of finance have to know the man would make a disastrous president and would strip the United States of whatever moral standing it still has. They should be confronted by their colleagues and asked at what cost they want to be a bit richer. Their concern, apparently, is limited to the tax code, which Trump promises to make business-friendly. These guys would depreciate the Statue of Liberty if they could.
Demagogues of the past have had their bad moments and come roaring back to success. So it may be too early to dismiss Trump’s candidacy. The vaunted “pivot,” in which Trump, in some Kafkaesque transition, goes to sleep a jackass and awakes a sleek thoroughbred, is remotely possible, and scandal of one sort or another may overtake Hillary Clinton, who, like a sunflower with the sun, has a tropism toward this sort of thing. But whole constituencies are gone — African Americans, Hispanics, et al. — and key states are out of reach, and Trump has gone from an inevitable dinner-party topic to not being mentioned at all. This dog didn’t bark. He can’t even hunt.
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