Trump’s scorched earth

Our view: Fewer Repub­li­cans are run­ning for the ex­its af­ter Sun­day’s de­bate, but given what their nom­i­nee said, they should be

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

The con­ven­tional wis­dom com­ing out of Sun­day night’s pres­i­den­tial de­bate is that Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump per­formed well enough to stop the stam­pede of GOP of­fi­cials who had dropped their sup­port of him or out­right called for him to leave the race af­ter Fri­day’s re­lease of a record­ing in which he bragged about sex­u­ally as­sault­ing women. The Repub­li­can Party prob­a­bly won’t now cut off sup­port for his cam­paign, as some had been urg­ing, and the likes of House Speaker Paul Ryan and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell can prob­a­bly main­tain their nose-hold­ing sup­port for him.

But while they breathe sighs of re­lief that Mr. Trump didn’t lit­er­ally melt into a pud­dle on the stage, Repub­li­cans might want to ac­tu­ally lis­ten to what their nom­i­nee said. Some of it may ac­tu­ally have been worse than the “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” tape. Repub­li­cans may have got­ten over their ter­ror (at least for the mo­ment) of the dam­age a Trump can­di­dacy is do­ing to their party, but they should have new rea­sons to worry what a Trump pres­i­dency would do to the GOP — not to men­tion to the democ­racy.

The lit­tle dic­ta­tor

The chants of “lock her up” at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion were dis­turb­ing enough as an ex­pres­sion of the party base’s id. But on Sun­day night, Mr. Trump turned that into an ac­tion plan, promis­ing a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor to in­ves­ti­gate Hil­lary Clinton’s use of a pri­vate email server while sec­re­tary of state — though in Alice in Won­der­land fash­ion, he made clear that’s just a for­mal­ity. “It’s aw­fully good that some­one with the tem­per­a­ment of Don­ald Trump is not in charge of the law in this coun­try,” Ms. Clinton said, prompt­ing Mr. Trump to re­tort: “Be­cause you would be in jail.”

Never mind FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey’s re­peated tes­ti­mony that no rea­son­able pros­e­cu­tor would file charges in a case like that sur­round­ing Ms. Clinton’s pri­vate email server. Prose­cut­ing po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies is the stuff of petty dic­ta­tor­ships, not the world’s old­est democ­racy. Buz­zfeed has help­fully com­piled a list of dic­ta­tors who have thrown their op­po­nents in jail (Vladimir Putin of Rus­sia, Robert Mu­gabe of Zim­babwe, Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary junta, Ni­cholas Maduro of Venezuela, etc.). But for a more lo­cal counter-ex­am­ple, con­sider the pres­sure many ac­tivists on the left placed on Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to in­ves­ti­gate al­leged war crimes com­mit­ted by the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. He re­fused to do so, even when the mat­ter at hand was some­thing as ab­hor­rent to Amer­i­can val­ues as tor­ture.

Aleppo

When the can­di­dates were asked what they would do about the un­fold­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in the Syr­ian city of Aleppo — a rebel strong­hold un­der with­er­ing as­sault from the forces of Rus­sia and Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad — Mr. Trump ex­pressed not the slight­est bit of con­cern. Rather, he of­fered up this wildly in­ac­cu­rate for­mu­la­tion: “As­sad is killing ISIS. Rus­sia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS.” No, ac­tu­ally, Rus­sia and the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment are killing civil­ians by the thou­sands; their pri­or­ity is not de­feat­ing ISIS but pre­serv­ing the As­sad regime. That’s pre­cisely the kind of wan­ton ig­no­rance about for­eign af­fairs that caused dozens of Repub­li­can na­tional se­cu­rity ex­perts to write a let­ter in Au­gust vow­ing not to sup­port him. This was just another ex­am­ple in what they cor­rectly di­ag­nosed as his “alarm­ing ig­no­rance of ba­sic facts of con­tem­po­rary in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics,” a pen­chant for com­pli­ment­ing ad­ver­saries and a brazen re­fusal to ed­u­cate him­self.

But from a par­ti­san point of view, Repub­li­cans should be wor­ried about the next part of his an­swer. Mod­er­a­tor Martha Rad­datz of ABC News fol­lowed up to re­mind Mr. Trump that at last week’s vice pres­i­den­tial de­bate, his run­ning mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, had given a very dif­fer­ent an­swer, hold­ing out the pos­si­bil­ity that con­tin­ued Rus­sian airstrikes in con­junc­tion with the As­sad gov­ern­ment might need to be met with Amer­i­can mil­i­tary force. “He and I haven’t spo­ken, and I dis­agree,” Mr. Trump said. If Mr. Trump would so blithely dis­miss his own run­ning mate, what do party lead­ers like Mr. Ryan think he would do to them if he be­came pres­i­dent?

Is­lam­o­pho­bia

Dur­ing the de­bate, a Mus­lim woman in the au­di­ence, Gor­bah Hameed, asked about the rise of Is­lam­o­pho­bia in the United States. Mr. Trump replied that the in­crease in Is­lam­o­pho­bia was “a shame,” which is a bit like an ar­son­ist lament­ing the spread of fire. But then he piv­oted into crit­i­cism of Mus­lims for sup­pos­edly fail­ing to re­port in­tel­li­gence about plans for ter­ror­ist at­tacks, in­clud­ing a claim that “in San Bernardino ... many peo­ple saw the bombs all over the apart­ment of the two peo­ple that killed 14 and wounded many, many peo­ple. Hor­ri­bly wounded, they will never be the same. Mus­lims have to re­port the prob­lems when they see them.” That is sim­ply not true. The Los An­ge­les Times (among oth­ers) has clearly doc­u­mented the lack of any ev­i­dence for what Mr. Trump has said. Fact-check­ers de­bunked it as far back as Jan­uary. Mr. Trump has a habit of re­peat­ing in­flam­ma­tory things he “heard some­where” or that “lots of peo­ple” are telling him, or Don­ald Trump made clear in Sun­day night’s de­bate that there is no stunt he will not pull to drag this cam­paign deeper into the gut­ter. maybe that he made up out of whole cloth. It’s ir­re­spon­si­ble when a can­di­date does it. It’s dan­ger­ous when a pres­i­dent does.

‘Just words’ or sex­ual as­sault?

The main rea­son many view­ers tuned in to Sun­day’s de­bate was to see whether Mr. Trump would ex­press real con­tri­tion about the de­spi­ca­bly vul­gar and sex­u­ally preda­tory things he said to “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” host Billy Bush in the 2005 video that was re­leased on Fri­day. True to form, he did not re­ally apol­o­gize; in fact, his ini­tial re­sponse to a ques­tion about the “ma­ture au­di­ences” na­ture of the cam­paign, to quote au­di­ence mem­ber Pa­trice Brock, did not ad­dress the is­sue at all. In­stead, he ram­bled about Oba­macare, Iran, the trade deficit, re­spect for law en­force­ment and mak­ing Amer­ica great again. Mod­er­a­tor An­der­son Cooper of CNN pressed him about the tape, not­ing that what he de­scribed as “locker room ban­ter” was in fact a boast about com­mit­ting sex­ual as­sault. Mr. Trump then started talk­ing about ISIS, dis­miss­ing his words as “one of those things.” Mr. Cooper had to fol­low up three more times to get Mr. Trump to say that he had not ac­tu­ally done what he bragged about on the tape.

No pres­i­den­tial can­di­date should have to be given three chances to deny that he made a prac­tice of kiss­ing and grop­ing women when­ever he pleased.

Scorched earth

For­mer Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man Michael Steele aptly summed up Mr. Trump’s night when he tweeted out a pic­ture of a mush­room cloud with the mes­sage, “GOP at this mo­ment.” If there were any Repub­li­cans who hoped af­ter the “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” tape that Mr. Trump might just go away, they were surely dis­abused of the no­tion when he in­vited re­porters to a ho­tel con­fer­ence room, sup­pos­edly to watch fi­nal de­bate prepa­ra­tions, but in ac­tu­al­ity to at­tend a news con­fer­ence with three women who claim they were sex­u­ally ha­rassed or as­saulted by Bill Clinton decades ago. Ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post, the Trump cam­paign tried to seat three of them in his fam­ily box, an ar­range­ment that would have caused them to en­ter the au­di­to­rium at the same time as Mr. Clinton. “We had it all set,” for­mer New York mayor Ru­dolph Gi­u­liani told The Post. “We­wanted to have them shake hands with Bill, to see if Bill would shake hands with them.” The Post re­ported that the scheme was per­son­ally ap­proved by Mr. Trump but that Frank J. Fahrenkopf, the de­bate com­mis­sion’s co-chair­man and a for­mer Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man, found out and put a stop to it.

Af­ter the first de­bate, Mr. Trump said he con­sid­ered bring­ing up Mr. Clinton’s past in­fi­deli­ties but held back be­cause Chelsea Clinton was in the au­di­ence. It is now clear that noth­ing will hold him back, that there is no stunt he will not pull to drag the ugli­est pres­i­den­tial race in mem­ory deeper into the gut­ter.

In a con­fer­ence call with Repub­li­can mem­bers of Congress Mon­day, Mr. Ryan said he would not de­fend Mr. Trump, would not cam­paign with him and would in­stead fo­cus on main­tain­ing the GOP’s House ma­jor­ity, Politico re­ported. But Mr. Trump’s per­for­mance Sun­day demon­strated that for Repub­li­cans, pre­tend­ing he doesn’t ex­ist sim­ply is not pos­si­ble. If he loses, as many Repub­li­can of­fi­cials are now all but con­ced­ing, he will go back to his old life. But the Grand Old Party will be fac­ing the con­se­quences of this cam­paign for years to come.

DANIEL ACKER/BLOOMBERG

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