The Democratic party’s strategy against Donald Trump has become clear. We have seen that Trump lacks self-control and feels the need to respond to every slight and attack, however trivial the charge and however unknown the attacker. He feels a compulsion to show that he is the best at everything and reacts strongly to any challenge to his dominance. If you say something nice about him, he likes you but if you say something even slightly negative, he turns on you viciously. He cannot admit to making a mistake, however small, and apologizing is unthinkable because both those things (in his mind) denote weakness and he has a compulsion to portray himself as invulnerable and strong.
The Democrats are clearly going to bait him with attacks coming from all sides and from all people, like the picadors in a bull fight taunting the enraged bull with pricks from their lances, and hope to cause him to respond in all directions and thus lose focus. Going by his past history of being unable to refuse the bait, any bait, there is no reason to think that he will refrain in the future either.
We saw this during the primaries when he felt obliged to emphasize the size of his hands, the thickness of his skin, and his vast knowledge of words and the Bible. But nowhere has this trait been more manifest than his overwrought response to the attacks by Khizr Khan. What should have been a one day story at most has now entered the sixth day as he and his surrogates keep the story alive by hammering away at the Khans, first suggesting that Ghazala Khan was forced to be silent, then claiming that he had made sacrifices comparable to the Khans, then claiming that president Obama and secretary of state Clinton were responsible for their son’s death (although he died in 2004), and that the real reason Khizr Khan was upset was because Trump wanted to keep terrorists out of the US. Kahn is turning out to be no shrinking violet and is keeping the feud going with fresh attacks.
Trump’s attacks on the Khans have been roundly criticized from all sides, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars. We have been treated repeatedly to the spectacle of Republican politicians having to twist themselves into pretzels in distancing themselves from Trump’s remarks while at the same time continuing to say that they support him. The only Republican congressman who has said that he will actually vote for Clinton is Richard Hanna but he is retiring from Congress and not running for re-election, so he may have felt it safe to do so. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona has said that he will not vote for Trump and has urged colleagues to withhold endorsement of him, but will not vote for Clinton either. Most elected Republicans are still in the “Yes but …” category, wearily distancing themselves from the latest Trump outburst but saying that they will still support him because any Republican is better than Clinton.
Some observers thought that the furor over Trump’s response to the Khans may provide an ‘exit ramp’ for those Republicans seeking a way to disassociate themselves from Trump. They could claim that his statements about a dead soldier and his family were beyond the pale and too much to take and repudiate him. President Obama himself called upon Republican leaders to repudiate their support for Trump saying that he was unfit to be president .
“If you are repeatedly having to say, in very strong terms, that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him? What does this say about your party that this is your standard bearer?
“This isn’t a situation where you have an episodic gaffe. This is daily and weekly, where they are distancing themselves from statements he’s making. There has to be a point at which you say, ‘This is not somebody I can support for president of the United States, even if he purports to be a member of my party.’ The fact that that has not yet happened makes some of these denunciations ring hollow.”
Of course, Obama would have known that by making this call he was actually closing off this exit ramp by making it harder for any Republican who was thinking of repudiating Trump to do so, because now they would be accused of kowtowing to the hated Muslim, Marxist, Kenyan usurper. It seems like the Democrats are trying to wrap Trump like a millstone around the necks of every Republican elected official and drag them down with him.
It is clear that the Trump campaign is reeling from the attacks but their efforts at damage control are being undermined by their own candidate. In response to the Khan fiasco, they have gone to congressional Republicans asking them to come out publicly in support of Trump but then Trump undercuts their efforts to build bridges to the party by saying that he is “not quite there yet” when it comes to endorsing speaker Paul Ryan or John McCain in their primary races, clearly returning what he felt was their snub of him. Trump has also now turned on the media for what he claims is their biased coverage of the Khan affair.
The problem with Trump is that he turns even minor annoyances into major ones and raises incidental people into high-profile enemies. He has even accused fire marshals of conspiring against him to limit the numbers of people at his events even though his advance teams had agreed to the numbers. You can also expect him to once again renew his attacks on the heritage of federal district judge Gonzalo Curiel who ruled yesterday that the case against Trump University can go forward, denying a motion by Trump’s lawyers that the case be dismissed.
Trump also has this weird habit of vaguely hauling out support for any assertion, from a friend, a businessman, an expert, someone he met, something he read, something he saw on TV, something he heard, as evidence that what he is saying has weight, even though such unsubstantiated claims are useless and, when they are specific, are often false. For example, he claimed that the debate schedule has been rigged against him by being pitted against NFL games and that the NFL sent him a letter agreeing. The NFL promptly denied this as did the bipartisan commission that organizes the debates.
Trump has been enormously successful so far in the presidential race by breaking all the rules and seizing every opportunity to be in the news headlines, for good or bad. This strategy enabled him to win the primary race easily. The question is whether the strategy of ‘any publicity is good publicity’ will continue to work for him in this phase of the contest. The Democrats clearly think that the presidential race runs according different rules than the primary one and are going to seek ways to have surrogates goad him from every direction so that he will respond intemperately.