There was a sense, as last week dragged itself to an end, that after a week of nastier-than-usual campaigning by both the Republican and Democratic candidates for the major party presidential nominations, the parties might dial things back a bit. Maybe they’d all shoot their cuffs, take a breath and remind the electorate that the country will be choosing a president in November, not the person most likely to win the final confrontation on the Jerry Springer show.
For the Republican, alas, the week that began with the Donald Trump campaign accusing the party establishment of conspiring to steal delegates from the New York billionaire in order to prevent him from becoming the GOP’s nominee did not end on a higher note.
And for the Democrats, a week dominated by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ repeated assertion that the party’s frontrunner, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, was unqualified to be president, didn’t improve much, either.
First to Trump. To the billionaire’s credit, he has seemed at least somewhat aware of the need to look more presidential if he actually wants to occupy the Oval Office one day. This is not to say that he’s transformed himself into a model statesman. But he has – for him – been noticeably less active and nasty on Twitter since getting stomped in the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday.
For a little while, it seemed possible that he had looked closely at his campaign and at how demonstrably turned off by his rhetoric the people in Wisconsin were, and decided to tone things down a bit.
But then Sunday morning came along and it became clear that like any good business executive, Trump had simply decided to delegate.
Attorney Paul Manafort, the man Trump has hired to manage both his operations at the Republican convention in July and the effort to secure delegates in advance of the convention, made his first major television appearance on the campaign’s behalf on Meet the Press.
If you bet the over on whether or not it would take five minutes for Trump’s newest surrogate to compare Cruz to the Nazis, well … you lost.
It took only four-and-a-half minutes for Manafort to accuse the Cruz campaign of using “Gestapo tactics” to secure delegates at county-level conventions
“Gestapo tactics?” asked host Chuck Todd. “That’s a strong word.”
Manafort followed up by demonstrating that he’ll be a good fit in the Trump campaign. After comparing his candidate’s chief opponent to the Nazis, he offered zero examples of the Cruz campaign’s misbehavior, promising only that Team Trump would be “filing several protests.”
On the Democratic side, things improved somewhat, if only because Sanders at least had the wherewithal to remain on the attack himself.
Last week, claiming that Clinton had specifically said that he is unqualified for the presidency, Sanders repeatedly said that Clinton’s votes in favor of the Iraq war and in favor of trade agreements in fact made her unqualified to sit in the Oval Office. It quickly became clear that Clinton had never actually said she considers Sanders unqualified, and influential Democrats across the country concentrated their fire on Sanders for days before he backtracked, saying that “of course” he considers her a qualified candidate.
However, that didn’t stop Sanders from using his Sunday show appearances to blast Clinton.
Also on Meet the Press, he explained, “The point that I was making, which is absolutely correct, is that if you look at where she is getting her money from Wall Street and other powerful special interest, she voted for the war, she cited Henry Kissinger, in a sense, as a model for her. I think those issues will tell the American people that in many respects, she may have the experience to be president of the United States. No one can argue that. But in terms of her judgment, something is clearly lacking.”
On CNN’s State of the Union, he said, “A candidate like Secretary Clinton, who voted for the disastrous war in Iraq, who has supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement that has cost us millions of decent-paying jobs and receives incredible amounts of money -- we're talking about tens of millions of dollars through a super PAC, from every special interest that you can think of, from the billionaire class -- I have my doubts about what kind of president she would make.”
While to most people the distinction between “unqualified to be president” and “clearly lacking” in judgment may appear to be one without a difference, it’s apparently the best Sanders could do.
And for what it’s worth, that’s a step above comparing Clinton to the Nazis.