Un­shack­led Trump

Our view: GOP nom­i­nee says he’s done with turn­coat party lead­ers and will now be him­self (se­ri­ously, you can’t make this stuff up)

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

Don­ald J. Trump’s re­cent dec­la­ra­tion that the “shack­les have been taken off” and that he now in­tends to cam­paign with­out re­straint sounds sus­pi­ciously like the sort of pro­nounce­ments made by black-hat pro­fes­sional wrestlers — fans know it’s fake and over-the-top, but they rel­ish such mo­ments any­way. So much of the Trump cam­paign has been show­man­ship that it’s some­times easy to for­get that he’s run­ning to be pres­i­dent, not en­ter­tainer-in-chief.

Say what you will about un­re­strained Don­ald Trump, but his lat­est shtick sounds sus­pi­ciously like that Trump fel­low who has been cam­paign­ing for the last 16 months. Racist? Check. Misog­y­nist? Check. Re­mark­ably ill-in­formed on world af­fairs? At­ten­tion span of a gnat? Easy to anger? Ego­tist supreme? Check, check, check and dou­ble-check.

What’s telling is not that the bil­lion­aire re­al­ity TV celebrity whom Repub­li­cans so fool­ishly chose to be their party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee is, at heart, a self-serv­ing op­por­tunist who from Day One had lit­tle in­ter­est in his party’s fu­ture or well-be­ing. It’s how other GOP can­di­dates have jumped on and off his band­wagon like rats flee­ing a sink­ing ship, get­ting back on it and then re­think­ing their choice a third time. Their col­lec­tive ex­cuses, claims of ig­no­rance, lame ex­pla­na­tions and sud­den re­al­iza­tions that the man at the top of the ticket is sin­gu­larly un­fit for of­fice will pro­vide a gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans a solid frame of his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ence for the con­cepts of op­por­tunism, self-de­cep­tion and moral bank­ruptcy.

Mr. Trump is not some sud­den dis­as­ter for the Party of Lin­coln, he’s the guy who blus­tered Archie Bunker-like about Mex­i­cans as crim­i­nals and rapists on the day he an­nounced his can­di­dacy. Hello? Even the can­di­date’s ab­hor­rent views on women were well-known, too, from his stints as a guest on Howard Stern’s ra­dio show. His bank­rupt­cies, shady fi­nan­cial deal­ings, dis­grace­ful and racist birther move­ment claims — all have been part of the pack­age from the start.

Thus, when peo­ple like House Speaker Paul Ryan fret about which kind of rat they wish to be, dry or wet, it in­spires no con­fi­dence in their judg­ment, only in their ca­pac­ity to look out for them­selves above all oth­ers. Mr. Ryan ob­vi­ously wishes to re­main in lead­er­ship, and so he can, pre­sum­ably with a straight face, stake out a po­si­tion of sup­port­ing Mr. Trump for pres­i­dent but not cam­paign­ing for him or de­fend­ing him. Does that some­how of­fend the fewest peo­ple in House GOP cau­cus meet­ings or back home in Wis­con­sin?

Polls sug­gest the Trump cam­paign is now of­fi­cially off the tracks, his de­clin­ing sup­port from women threat­en­ing to put most swing states be­yond his grasp. One pre­sumes the Repub­li­can Pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee has all but set off civil war in the GOP in the last few days. un­teth­ered Mr. Trump will sim­ply dou­ble and quadru­ple down on his most bel­li­cose and caus­tic lines of at­tack and go for sheer spec­ta­cle like Hulk Ho­gan pulling off his sig­na­ture Atomic Leg Drop. The Bre­it­bart crowd will swoon while Hil­lary Clin­ton makes plans for White House move-in day.

The only ques­tion left will be what this dis­as­ter means for the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in Congress. Democrats are be­gin­ning to sense a golden op­por­tu­nity, and much of their ef­forts between now and Nov. 8 may be di­rected at cre­at­ing coat­tails that might flip the Se­nate and even the House. But not so fast. As much as Mr. Trump’s tirades against dis­loyal Repub­li­can lead­ers might have proven dis­as­trous for those fac­ing com­pet­i­tive party pri­maries, it may not have much im­pact at all in the gen­eral elec­tion. And as ev­i­dence we point to Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan, a Repub­li­can with a deep dis­dain for Don­ald Trump but whose poll num­bers have never been higher. In a re­cent opin­ion sur­vey, three-quar­ters of Mary­lan­ders said they ap­prove of Gover­nor Ho­gan’s dis­avowal of Mr. Trump, with Repub­li­cans roughly split on the is­sue. That means even some of Mr. Trump’s most ar­dent sup­port­ers don’t blame Mr. Ho­gan for be­ing against their guy.

What does that say ex­actly? Maybe Trump vot­ers just want to send a mes­sage to Wash­ing­ton that they aren’t happy — but they aren’t so fool­ish to ac­tu­ally ex­pect to elect the guy. That would be the equiv­a­lent of elect­ing a Pres­i­dent Ho­gan — Hulk, not Larry — when all you re­ally want is to see him grind your least-fa­vorite op­po­nent’s face into the can­vas for a mo­ment or two.

GER­ARDO MORA/GETTY IM­AGES

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