If you believe as Donald Trump believes -- that dominating the news cycle, regardless of the content of the coverage – is in and of itself the most important thing, then you probably think that Trump has had a spectacular week.
I admit it: I failed to see the upside media potential of attacking the grieving Muslim father who publicly mourned the heroic combat death of his son in the name of patriotism and freedom from religious persecution. I did not see the ratings bonanza in inviting a malevolent foreign dictator to hack private U.S. servers. And I did not predict that Trump would own prime time for his ignorance that Russia had already taken the Crimean Peninsula from the Ukraine.
Unfortunately for Donald Trump, there’s a fair amount of evidence that the “any coverage is good coverage” theory is seriously flawed. “New Coke” comes to mind. ValuJet, which expired after its gross operational negligence resulted in the crash of a 727, is a second example. And Rick Perry could probably come up with a third example, but then again – and rather to my point -- perhaps not.
In defiance of such evidence, Donald Trump has churned forward with his all-press-is-good-press media strategy like a snowplow driver who takes out every other mail box along the way. Convinced that consuming all available media oxygen is the sine qua non of Presidential politics, Trump went on a three day binge of Muslim trash-talking, Russian email hack stalking, and Ukrainian reality sleep-walking that only served to push the Republican faithful to the brink of Trump-balking. John McCain blew his top over Trump’s bewildering assault on Muslim American Khizr Khan, father of fallen patriot Humayun Kahn. Trump then retaliated by announcing that he wasn’t really “there yet” on endorsing McCain and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, causing heretofore castrato Reince Priebus to grow a pair and lay into Trump on a profanity-laden conference call.
Pundits observed that the timing Donald Trump’s recent gaffe spree was particularly unfortunate, noting how rapidly it had followed on the heels of the Democratic Party’s four day long Philadelpho-gasm.
Pundits, wake up. You’ve got it backwards. The very reason that Donald Trump went berserk is precisely because the Democrats were breathing all the media oxygen.
Donald Trump may have been angry with what Khizr Kahn had said about him -- that Trump had “sacrificed nothing,” and that he needs to read the Constitution. But my suspicion is that the real reason Donald Trump was furious was that Khizr Khan had utterly dominated the news cycle.
Trump could not bear to see Kahn on one more Sunday morning news program, or headlining one more news website. He couldn’t just let the story dissipate and gradually disappear from the “trending” monitors. Trump is biologically programmed to do whatever media shlock and awe is required to regain his market share of airtime. So he attacked Khizr Khan for what he said and then he attacked Kahn’s wife for not saying anything. He expressed anger that Patricia Smith, who had blamed Hillary Clinton for the death of her son at Benghazi, had achieved none of the sustained media buzz that the media accorded to Kahn. It was as if Trump was accusing the media of being biased in favor of the dead children of liberals.
And so it goes with Donald Trump’s addiction to free media. Anyone who has been mystified with Donald Trump’s infatuation with Twitter should process it through this filter. Twitter is to Donald Trump what Twinkies are to Chris Christie. Twitter is instant media gratification; it is a direct line triggering seismic activity under the anchor desk at Fox and Friends. It eliminates the need for a messy press conference or having to wait for the evening’s stadium show. You don’t even have to think or form a full sentence; there is no need or space for factual support. Trump interprets the 140 character limit as a liberating excuse from the need to provide substance. Twitter lends itself nicely to Trump’s preference for communicating in the linguistic equivalent of projectile vomiting, farts, belches, and snorts.
If you follow the illogic, Trump was probably actually quite pleased with the firestorm that burned from Monday through Thursday. While Republican leaders were wandering about with the exact same expression that Kate Winslet had when the Titanic’s architect whispered that there were not enough lifeboats, Trump was back doing the morning shows. Back in the saddle, sucking in that clean, pure oxygen of airtime. You think you can dominate the news cycle, Khizr? The Donald is back, you moose-lum apprentice.
It is almost hard to count all the reasons that the Republican Party leadership was in a full-Fukushima Daiichi-grade meltdown. Quite apart from the incredible diss to McCain and Ryan, quite apart from the appalling bad taste of picking a fight with Gold Star parents, quite apart from the woeful ignorance that Russia had, indeed, already entered the Ukraine, there was the little matter that Trump was nowhere near on the “message” that he was supposed to be sticking to. With less than 100 days to go, Trump was squandering precious time, having completely lost sight of the core campaign themes the he had put forward in his nationally televised address just ten days before.
The “law and order” candidate? Well, it’s hard to push that line when your proposal that Russia hack our emails is borderline treason. Protect our borders? That would seem inconsistent with his invitation to a hostile nation to penetrate our cyberspace. Make America great again? Hard to get families behind your big slogan when you belittle and scorn the parents of soldiers who have actually made the ultimate sacrifice to keep America great.
Buried in the shit storm of Trump’s own making were the issues where Trump has actually made the most headway – unfair trade practices, loss of manufacturing, and undocumented aliens. For three days in August, they didn’t even come up.
There’s a lesson in this for the Democrats if they can see it.
Donald Trump can be distracted as easily as an ADHD kid who left town for the weekend without his Ritalin prescription. Take away the I.V. crack of media oxygen, and the guy will blabber with reckless abandon until he finds the right crazy talk to bring back the main line. His first instinct? To attack the person who took away the oxygen. At the outset, Jeb Bush had the oxygen, so Donald Trump had to humiliate him. After Iowa, Ted Cruz had the oxygen, so Trump tried to defame him, his wife, and his father. When ISIS-inspired terrorists struck in San Bernardino, Trump had to think big in order to regain the spotlight, so he went after the planet’s 1.6 billion Muslims. And last Thursday, Khizr Kahn stole the oxygen mask, and Donald Trump was flailing away like a sci-fi astronaut whose helmet comes off in outer space. He had to retaliate.
The reason why Khizr Kahn has exploded like a torpedo below Trump’s waterline is that he is the perfect storm of the vulnerabilities of Donald Trump's candidacy.
- Of all of Trump’s wild policy proposals, the wholesale ban on Muslims may be the most carcinogenic. Most Republicans (notably Paul Ryan) violently reject it as representing a direct threat to religious freedom. The more Trump talks about it, the worse it is for him.
- The symbolism of a Muslim dying on the battlefield for his country has an exponential multiplier effect on the appalling bigotry of the Muslim ban. It places Trump in the position of being in opposition to religious freedom and the United States military. After you criticize these two institutions, all you have left is Mother Theresa.
- Khizr Kahn has been able to do what 16 Republican candidates could not; he has stood up to Donald Trump and wounded him badly with his simple eloquence and ferocious principle.
- Donald Trump views an apology as a sign of weakness. This means that once he has made an error, he would rather defiantly double-down on it than admit to weakness. So Kahn became the gift that kept on giving, as Trump’s only choice was to continue his attacks.
- The more Donald Trump talks about this issue, the less he talks about areas in which Hillary Clinton is truly vulnerable.
- The more Donald Trump talks about Kahn, the more he fuels an internecine nuclear war in his own party.
- The more Donald Trump flails angrily about how he has been savaged on this issue, the more people see a dangerously unstable man. And more people conclude that they don’t want that guy’s fingers anywhere near the launch codes.
If I were running Hillary Clinton’s campaign, I would study this Khizr Kahn template carefully. How can Democrats goad Trump into losing his temper on topics that can’t possibly help him? How can Democrats dominate the news cycle on a topic that actually damages Trump the more he talks about it? Simply put, how can the Democrats provoke him into repeatedly wasting precious time?
Perhaps start by keeping the Khizr Kahn issue alive as long as possible… with television commercials featuring service men and women from other groups that are the target of Trump’s bigotry (Hispanics, African-Americans, Women, and LGBT), all pledging their support for Khizr Kahn.
Perhaps Team Clinton can find a way to goad Trump into a public food fight about climate science.
Or, perhaps, it is time to push him hard to embrace or repudiate the legacy of the last Republican President, George W. Bush. It pretty much doesn’t matter which way he goes on this issue, as either way it reminds people of the sorry shape the country was in when W left office. And any time Trump spends on this topic is a counterproductive waste of time.
Take away the Ritalin, Democrats. Distract him and goad him on his weakest issues and watch him waste 48 precious hours throwing temper tantrums and bleating hasty retweets.
To all you television network executives who enjoy his ratings but who are growing terrified of a Trump presidency? Here is how you can help. When Trump goes non-linear, turn on the oxygen. The white rats in a Psych 101 experiment learn faster than this guy. Wait until he gets to his craziest, and then pump the coverage to the max. Interrupt prime time programming to report on his lunacy-du-jour. Do not worry; he won’t get mad at you, he will love it. There is no need to try to try to shoot somebody who is busy drinking hemlock. It is so much more elegant to refill his cup.
Thanks to Khizr Kahn, winning this election is now as easy as taking candy from a baby.
Just take the candy from the baby.
Watch that baby scream, lash out, get angry, and go way, way off his baby-message.
Trace it all back to the baby’s uncontrolled id. The provenance of Donald J. Trump is his lust to be at the center of the known universe. That is his oxygen; and it is his most essential need in life. More than being right. More than any accomplishment, service to his country, or purpose in life. And, yes, more than being President of the United States.
Can we finally see a clear path for beating Donald Trump?
Thanks to a Muslim immigrant family who actually is making America great again, yes we Kahn.
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You should get an award for this amazing pun, namely the phrase "gaffe spree ". Congratulations, and written as we cruise on the Graf Spee.ReplyDelete