Crafting theories about the true nature of the Donald Trump presidential campaign has been a sort of parlor game since the billionaire Republican frontrunner descended a gilded escalator in Trump Tower last summer to announce his candidacy.
There’s the idea that Trump is a deep-cover mole that the Democratic Party planted in the GOP. His history of liberal positions on various issues, all recently changed, fuel the idea that his candidacy is a sort of time bomb, set to explode at a time most advantageous to Democrats.
Then there’s the suggestion that he’s actually some kind of performance artist, feeding the worst instincts of the Republican base in order to make a point about the state of American politics in 2016.
Earlier this week, the former communications director of the now-defunct Trump-backing Make America great Again Super PAC floated an idea that’s had a lot of currency: Trump originally mounted what he thought would be a protest campaign – something that would raise his profile without committing him to something as onerous as actually being president. But he wound up being more successful than he ever expected, and now can’t find a way out.
Until recently, Trump had provided just enough evidence to keep the various tongue-in-cheek theories alive.
The GOP’s post-2012 “autopsy” of the Mitt Romney campaign determined that the party needed to court Hispanic voters if it hoped for any future general election success, yet Trump launched his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and murderers.
The GOP is notoriously weak among other minority groups, yet Trump seemed conflicted about disavowing the endorsement of a prominent former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
While running for the nomination of a party that has long prided itself on a strong defense policy, he has promised to withdraw support from US allies unless they agree to pay for it.
That’s been more than enough to turn off a lot of voters, but in the past 48 hours, the volume of bizarre, controversial, and downright ignorant statements coming from the man leading the GOP field by hundreds of delegates has increased to the point where you have to ask: Does he really want this job?
Take today, for example. In a town hall-style interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Trump advocated a total ban on abortion – even as he admitted that it would drive women to dangerous illegal providers – and said that women who get abortions in defiance of the law ought to face “punishment.” For years, the staunchest pro-life groups have avoided targeting women receiving abortions for punishment, calling instead for penalties against abortion providers in an effort to avoid alienating the female half of the U.S. electorate.
In the same interview, Trump refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in Europe. Yes, Europe. He told Matthews he didn’t want to “take any cards off the table” in future conflicts. But really, other than…what? preventing the spread of a zombie apocalypse?...it’s hard to dream up a scenario in which a US president needs to nuke the European continent.
The Matthews’ interview happened on the same afternoon that Trump, almost unbelievably, lamented the existence of the Geneva Conventions – the international treaties that have been in place for generations to prevent war crimes.
While discussing the fight against the terror group ISIS at a rally in Wisconsin, he said “The problem is we have the Geneva Conventions, all sorts of rules and regulations, so the soldiers are afraid to fight.”
Of course, the Geneva Conventions also protect US soldiers from abuse, so it’s not really clear that maligning them is a real winner for Trump with people sympathetic to the wellbeing of US troops.
Only half a day before, Trump had been dealing with the fact that his campaign director faced charges of battery for manhandling a female reporter at a Trump press conference earlier this month. In a tweet, he directed his followers to view the video surveillance tape of the incident – the one that the police officer investigating the incident cited in his report as evidence – saying there is “nothing there.”
Trump also suggested that the reporter who accused his campaign manager of assaulting her might have been carrying a “little bomb” with her, in the shape of the pen in her hand, and suggested that he might have grounds to file charges against he for – possibly – putting her hand on the sleeve of his jacket in an effort to get his attention while asking a question.
All this, after the reporter in question passed a security background check, entered the Trump event through a process monitored by the US Secret Service, and attempted to ask Trump a question in full view of a Secret Service agent who did not react to her questioning Trump at all, even as his campaign manager lunged at her.
In the end, Trump might really think he wants to be the President of the United States, but at this point, it’s not unreasonable to point out that if he were actively trying to lose the general election, he probably wouldn’t be doing anything different from what he’s doing right now.