The bulletproof Donald Trump’s real weakness

Media attacks only confirm to Trump that he’s doing something right. If he has a real weakness, it may be his own hubris.

Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Thursday, July 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Thursday, July 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

As a piece of writing, the editorial published on the front page of the Washington Post on July 22 was pretty good. Donald Trump, the paper’s editorialists opined, is “uniquely unqualified to serve as president” and presents a “unique and present danger” to the Constitution. It outlined Trump’s litany of lies, contradictions, hate speech and bellicose indifference to the inner workings of the government he hopes to lead. “Mr. Trump campaigns by insult and denigration, insinuation and wild accusation,” the editorial reads.

Every one of the editorial’s 1,400 words was true, and no doubt it warmed the cockles of many liberal hearts. I’ve read dozens, maybe hundreds, of these types of things over the last several months, each echoing the very obvious fact that he has no business being president.

And it is precisely why the editorial serves less as damnation of the man than confirmation for him and his base that he’s doing something right. Trump’s evolution from carnival clown to dangerous fool to calculating perpetual outrage machine couldn’t have taken place without the reams of morally indignant broadsides launched at him over the last 14 months.

For Trump, long a man of establishment tastes and proclivities, each piece of invective cements his anti-establishment bona fides that have kept him in the race. He remains within spitting distance in the polls precisely because he isn’t a media darling. For his stubborn, unalloyed and largely homogenous base, the hair-pulling rage Trump provokes from the media isn’t a demonstration of his own buffoonery; it’s proof that he’s speaking truth to establishment power. And until now it has rendered him bulletproof.

As far as shticks go, it’s not particularly original. Rob Ford used virtually the same strategy to get elected Toronto mayor in 2010. With a few exceptions, the media coverage of Ford was so uniform in its damnation that it allowed Ford, a multimillionaire with a taste for Cadillac SUVs, to pitch himself as the put-upon everyman fighting the establishment.

Like Trump, Ford aimed his brand of populism squarely at the haughty elitism of his predecessor. Populism, the art of applying bumper sticker solutions to complex problems, requires catch-all slogans. Ford wanted to stop the gravy train. Trump will make America great again. Ford’s targets were the media and the political class. Trump’s targets are exactly the same—along with Mexicans, Muslims, foreign workers, women and the occasional baby.

The only difference between the methods of these two men are the stakes. Ford oversaw garbage collection and parking permits. Trump would have access to the codes of the largest nuclear weapons arsenal on Earth.

Stakes aside, Ford and Trump share a persona that imbues a sense of invincibility. Ford could literally smoke crack cocaine on camera, then lie about it, then lie about it some more; he could get drunk in public, utter racial slurs and bowl over a councillor during a city council debate. His support base, and his hold on Toronto’s mayoral office, remained largely intact throughout.

As for Trump, there isn’t enough space to list his transgressions. A sample, plucked from the headlines over the last week: he referred to Hillary Clinton as “the devil”; he lied about a letter he received from the NFL regarding the debates; he said terrorists “by the thousands and thousands” had infiltrated the United States; and, most notably, he repeatedly insulted the family of a dead war hero. Yet as of this writing, he is three points behind Hillary Clinton in the New York Times poll aggregator.

The seeds of Trump’s defeat won’t be printed on the front page of the Washington Post, or tumble from the mouth of a frothed-out Clintonite on yet another CNN panel, or through the gobs of Twitter rage directed at him. Trump’s defeat, which is likely, lies with his base and in the candidate himself.

Unlike most mayoral candidates, would-be American presidents have to proselytize beyond those who would ordinarily support them—which, in Trump’s case, is white men. Those dazzling aggregated poll numbers mask his weakness. Poll after poll after poll has Trump trailing Clinton in every demographic save for white males.

And Trump’s support amongst white voters, a diminishing demographic to begin with, currently trails that of Mitt Romney in 2012 by six percentage points. Trump’s challenge is far greater than Clinton’s: he has to increase his support, while Hillary just has to convert her current support into votes.

Finally, there is the candidate himself. As it turns out, a presidential campaign is an ideal setting for a man addicted to the narcotic pleasure of his own hubris. But the resulting infallibility has a limit, which Trump apparently reached when he attacked the family of Humayun Khan, the American soldier who died in the Iraq war in 2004.

To be fair to Trump, the Republican Party has a history of smearing war heroes for political gain: witness Democratic candidate (and multiple Purple Heart recipient) John Kerry in 2004, and John McCain during the Republican nomination in 2000.

But by tethering the Khan family to his delusions about security and Muslim terrorism, Trump crossed some sort of threshold. Not with the press, mind you, but with Republicans themselves, who realize that they will be held hostage by Trump’s mouth for about another 90 days. Most are still in the grumbling stage; some, like Meg Whitman, Richard Hanna and Brent Scowcroft, are voting for Clinton.

Trump’s press coverage long ago showed his lack of decency, and continues to do so. It hasn’t mattered one bit. For Republicans, though, it’s far worse: Trump has less electability by the day.


The bulletproof Donald Trump’s real weakness

  1. haha stupid white males are stupid i’m so much better ok fine i’m a white male too but i haz a degree in gender studies.

  2. Trump is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing”

    — Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)

  3. You missed an important part of the success of Ford and Trump …. the alternatives are not significantly better, and in many ways are much worse. You’ve also assumed that those who support Trump or Ford do so for his most vulgar traits …. it’s like suggesting that everyone who votes for Clinton does so because she lied about Bosnia or the emails or Benghazi … when in reality it is usually in spite of these transgressions

  4. Actually, Rob Ford drove an old minivan until his brothers bought him the Cadillac, but whatever, research is hard. It’s a fact that people like Ford and Trump are largely immune to attacks from the press, you’d almost think large percentages of the great unwashed have little regard for the press. I’m not just talking about white males either, in fact a large number of white males, like the author, are squealing with indignation about Trump as well. What would you say to my Filipino neighbor who would vote Trump in a second to “Keep the Muslims out” – The fact is, it’s not just ‘whitey’ who likes Trump and Ford, you remind me of the horrified Toronto Star columnists who were horrified by the huge number of non-white Rob Ford supporters who couldn’t get their heads around how ‘their’ people could be fooled by this druggy dolt. Ha-ha-ha.

  5. I would hope that Trumps biggest weakness is his obvious lack of knowledge of the world. But that is asking too much.

    • By the same token, though, what does Trudeau know about the world? What does he know about the world that the average Canadian has to live in? Does he understand how so much highly touted public policy regularly has a negative impact on the lives of the majority of Canadians? Does he grasp the significance of the fact that government is the single largest cost borne by Canadian families? Does he understand economics at any level? Does he grasp things like deadlines, and the need for profits, and quality controls, and any one of the hundreds of thousands of things that, on a daily basis, are far more important to the lives of Canadians than 99 out of 100 of the things that he and his government will devote most of their energies to in the next several years?
      I doubt it very much, so what makes him better than Trump?

      • Well, to start, we don’t have to worry that Trudeau will decide to end life on this planet because some foreign leader insulted him on Twitter…

        • You do realize, don’t you, that the liberals in the media have been saying that the Republican candidate is hell bent on either establishing an American Reich or nuking the world back to about a week before the Stone Age since Eisenhower? There’s an old parable, I think, that tells of a boy and some coyotes or wolves or something…

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