By all rights, the chatter among journalists this morning after last night’s Republican presidential debate (or should it be “’presidential’ debate” at this point?) ought to have been about the relative merits of the candidates’ performances. Instead, much of it was caught up in a discussion of Donald Trump’s spelling.
After a debate last night in which he faced relentless assaults from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and, to a lesser degree, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump cut loose Friday morning with a stream of grammatically garbled and repeatedly misspelled tweets going after both of his main rivals.
Had Trump finally lost it? Were the stresses of the campaign trail and the sudden pressure from his competitors finally causing the Donald to crack?
Or … was Trump playing an incredibly devious game of three-dimensional chess, and getting everybody to follow along?
Here’s the thinking: Trump did not have his best debate last night. Rubio and Cruz both landed more hits in one outing than Trump has taken in the nine previous debates combined. It may or may not be enough to slow the Trump Express at this late date, but regardless, last night was not a high point in Trump’s nascent political career.
Trump has stepped in it before, though, and his follow-up tactic has often been to distract from a potentially embarrassing mistake by doing or saying something so over-the-top that coverage of his latest outrage sucks all the media attention away from his failings as a traditional candidate.
So was Trump’s barrage of ill crafted tweets really evidence of a flustered candidate still reeling from an embarrassing debate? Or was it a calculated effort to change the conversation – the equivalent of Trump holding up a shiny object to grab the media’s attention?
Consider the case: Trump may not be an intellectual, but he graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He can spell. He also, presumably, has spellcheck installed on his phone.
So, “honer” for “honor?” Repeated misspelling of “lightweight” and “choker?” More than a few people in the media began to suspect that there was some method to The Donald’s sudden madness.
So Trump's serial spelling, um, honers this morning were intended to troll us, yes?— Brian Beutler (@brianbeutler) February 26, 2016
If the whole episode was really a feint intended to distract attention for a short time, it worked. Trump’s spelling got a lot of attention online and on television Friday morning. Even Rubio picked up on it, suggesting on the stump that Trump had “hired a foreign worker to do his tweets.”
By late morning, Trump had started reprising many of his earlier tweets, this time with the spelling corrected. And his campaign was promising an early afternoon announcement at a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, that a campaign aide promised would “rock the political world.”
So maybe Trump had some sort of temporary brain freeze. Or maybe he was looking to muddy the waters for a few hours until he could dominate the next news cycle by moving the discussion in still another direction.