Like a great, roaring B-29, the Donald Trump presidential campaign emerged from a barrage of flak Sunday morning with an engine on fire and leaking oil, but with more than enough power to keep moving relentlessly forward, dropping bomb after bomb on its enemies.
Saturday was probably the worst day the Trump campaign has experienced since the real estate billionaire and former reality television star announced in June that he would seek the Republican nomination for president. On the heels of a debate performance in which he seemed defensive and argumentative toward the moderators and refused to rule out a third-party candidacy, Trump was interviewed by CNN’s Don Lemon late Friday evening.
Among other things, Trump criticized moderator Megyn Kelly of Fox News for what he claimed was especially aggressive questioning aimed at him in particular. Trying to illustrate how angry he perceived Kelly to be, Trump said, “you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her…wherever.”
Trump’s critics immediately leapt on the comment, claiming that he insinuated that Kelly was menstruating at the time of the debate and might have been overly emotional or reactive. Trump claimed he had meant no such thing, saying he had simply let the thought trail off without finishing it and would have said “nose” or “ears” if he had thought it was important to finish the sentence.
On Saturday, though, Trump’s protestations were buried under an avalanche of scorn from both the right and the left. Prominent conservative pundit Erick Erickson made a very public show of disinviting Trump from an event his Red State organization was holding over the weekend. Many noted the irony of Erickson, whose own history of making remarkably misogynistic comments is long and well documented, turning himself into the GOP’s new arbiter of acceptable speech.
Trump’s campaign put out a rambling press release that explained his version of events, called Erickson “a total loser,” and added that “only a deviant” would think Trump had been referring to Kelly’s menstrual cycle.
However, the dust-up dominated political news all day Saturday and was capped off by the revelation later in the day that Trump adviser and former Richard Nixon dirty-tricks specialist Roger Stone had left the campaign. (Trump said Stone was fired; Stone said he had quit.)
The next morning, Trump was unbowed. He did phone interviews with four out of the five major Sunday shows – notably absent in the lineup was Fox – and adamantly refused to apologize. “There’s nothing to apologize for,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. “What I said was totally appropriate.” When informed of criticism, including some from his fellow Republican candidates including former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, he responded in typical Trump fashion.
“Carly Fiorina? Give me a break. She’s got zero chance.”
At the same time, as he did after insulting Mexicans in his campaign launch speech, he repeatedly pointed out what he described as a strong history of helping women and made vague promises about how he would make things even better going forward.
“I’m going to do things for women that no other candidate will be able to do,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“I’ve always had a great relationship with the women,” he bragged to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
He was even more expansive in talking to John Dickerson on Face the Nation.
“I’m very much into the whole thing of helping people and helping women,” he said. “I will be phenomenal to the women…. I am going to be very much up on the whole issue of women’s health. It’s very important. To me it’s vital.”
And on and on it went, on show after show. When interviewers agreed to set aside the specific Kelly controversy and ask about Trump’s tone in general, and his reflexive need to personally attack any and all critics he vacillated between complaints about political correctness and outright falsehood.
“This political correctness is just absolutely killing us as a country,” he complained to Todd. “You can’t say anything. Anything you say today they’ll find a reason it’s not good.”
Todd pointed out that when someone criticizes Trump, “you go after them” adding that he often tries to “find something in their physical appearance” to mock or belittle.
“Chuck, I don’t,” said Trump.
I hear that sleepy eyes @chucktodd will be fired like a dog from ratings starved Meet The Press? I can't imagine what is taking so long!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 13, 2015
Trump may live in his own reality, but as Todd would reveal later in the show, part of that alternate universe appears to be bleeding into our own. No major polls have been released since the GOP debate on Thursday, but on Sunday Todd unveiled an online poll sponsored by NBC that was taken over the two days following the debate, meaning the Friday and Saturday.
The result: Trump remains the leading Republican in the field, with 23 percent of the vote. His nearest rival in the post-debate poll trailed by 10 points.