When facts, logic and his­tory don’t mat­ter

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Charles Krautham­mer Colum­nist Eu­gene Robin­son Colum­nist

And now, less than six weeks from the elec­tion, what is the main event of the day? A fight be­tween the GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee and a for­mer Miss Uni­verse, whom he had 20 years ago called Miss Piggy and other choice pe­jo­ra­tives. Just a few weeks ear­lier, we were seized by a tran­sient hys­te­ria over a mi­nor Hil­lary Clin­ton lung in­fec­tion hyped to near-mor­tal sta­tus. The lat­est cu­rios­ity is Don­ald Trump’s 37 snif­fles dur­ing the first pres­i­den­tial de­bate. (Peo­ple count this sort of thing.) Dr. Howard Dean has sug­gested a pos­si­ble co­caine ad­dic­tion.

In a man who doesn’t even drink cof­fee? This cam­paign is sink­ing to some­where be­tween zany and to­tally in­sane. Is there a bot­tom?

Take the most strik­ing — and over­looked — mo­ment of Trump’s GOP con­ven­tion speech. He ac­tu­ally promised that un­der him, “the crime and vi­o­lence that to­day af­flicts our na­tion will soon — and I mean very soon — come to an end.” Not “be re­duced.” End. Hu­man­ity has been at this since, oh, Ham­murabi. But the au­di­ence didn’t laugh. It ap­plauded.

Nor was this mere spur of the mo­ment hy­per­bole. Trump was read­ing from a teleprompter. As he was a few weeks ear­lier when he told a con­fer­ence in North Dakota, “Politi­cians have used you and stolen your votes. They have given you noth­ing. I will give you every­thing.”

Every­thing, mind you. “I will give you what you’ve been look­ing for for 50 years.” No laugh­ter recorded.

In launch­ing his AfricanAmer­i­can out­reach at a speech in Char­lotte, Trump cat­a­logued the hor­rors that he be­lieves de­fine black life in Amer­ica to­day. Then promised: “I will fix it.”

How prim­i­tive have our pol­i­tics be­come? Fix what? Fam­ily struc­ture? So­cial in­her­i­tance? Self-de­struc­tive habits? How? He doesn’t say. He’ll will it. Trust him, as he likes to say.

Af­ter 15 months, the sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief has be­come so ubiq­ui­tous that we hardly no­tice any­more. We are op­er­at­ing in an al­ter­nate uni­verse where the ge­om­e­try is non-Eu­clidean, facts don’t mat­ter, his­tory and logic have dis­ap­peared.

Go­ing into the first de­bate, Trump was in a vir­tual tie for the lead. The bar for him was set al­most com­i­cally low. He had merely to (1) suf­fer no ma­jor melt­down and (2) pro­duce just a few mo­ments of co­her­ence.

He cleared the bar. In the first half-hour, he es­tab­lished the en­tire premise of his cam­paign. Things are bad and she’s been around for 30 years. You like bad? Stick with her. You want change? I’m your man.

It can’t get more el­e­men­tal than that. At one point, Clin­ton laughed and ridiculed Trump for try­ing to blame her for every­thing that’s ever hap­pened. In fact, that’s ex­actly what he did. With some suc­cess.

By con­ven­tional mea­sures — poise, logic, com­mand of the facts — she won the de­bate hand­ily. But when it comes to mov­ing the nee­dle, con­ven­tional mea­sures don’t ap­ply this year. What might, how­ever, move the nee­dle is not the de­bate it­self but the time bomb Trump left be­hind.

His great weak­ness is his van­ity. He is tem­per­a­men­tally in­ca­pable of al­low­ing any at­tack on his per­son to go un­avenged. He is par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive on the sub­ject of his wealth. So cen­tral to his self-im­age is his busi­ness acu­men that in the de­bate he couldn’t re­sist the temp­ta­tion to tout his clev­er­ness on taxes. To an au­di­ence of 86 mil­lion, he ap­peared to con­cede that he didn’t pay any. “That makes me smart,” he smugly in­ter­jected.

Big mis­take. The next day, Clin­ton of­fered the ob­vi­ous re­tort: “If not pay­ing taxes makes him smart, what does that make all the rest of us?” Mean­while, Trump has been go­ing around telling Rust Belt work­ers, on whom his Elec­toral Col­lege strat­egy hinges and who might still be­lieve that bil­lion­aires do have some obli­ga­tion to pay taxes, that “I am your voice.”

When gaffes like this are com­mit­ted, the can­di­date ei­ther dou­bles down (you might say that if you can legally pay noth­ing, why not, given how cor­rupt the tax code is) or sim­ply de­nies he ever said any­thing of the sort. In­deed, one of the more re­mark­able fea­tures of this cam­paign is how brazenly can­di­dates deny hav­ing said things that have been cap­tured on tape, such as Clin­ton deny­ing she ever said the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship was the gold stan­dard of trade deals.

The only thing more amaz­ing is how eas­ily they get away with it.

Charles Krautham­mer is syn­di­cated by the Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. His email ad­dress is let­ters@ charleskrautham­mer.com.

It is hope­lessly retro, but per­haps un­sur­pris­ing, that wom­an­hood has be­come a prom­i­nent is­sue in the pres­i­den­tial race. This has to be bad for Don­ald Trump, a hall-of-shame sex­ist — and good for Hil­lary Clin­ton, an ac­tual woman.

It was po­lit­i­cal id­iocy for Trump to fall into Clin­ton’s art­fully laid trap at the de­bate Mon­day night when she men­tioned how he treated the woman who won his Miss Uni­verse pageant in 1996: “He called this woman ‘Miss Piggy.’ Then he called her ‘Miss House­keep­ing,’ be­cause she was Latina. Don­ald, she has a name.”

Clin­ton was re­fer­ring to Ali­cia Machado, whom Trump threat­ened with tak­ing away her ti­tle af­ter she gained a few pounds. Trump seemed flus­tered and could only re­spond with a com­plete non se­quitur — a de­fense of the many ugly things he has said about co­me­dian Rosie O’Don­nell, main­tain­ing that “I think ev­ery­body would agree that she de­serves it and no­body feels sorry for her.”

I, for one, do not think O’Don­nell, or any other woman, de­serves be­ing called “a slob” who is “dis­gust­ing” and has “a fat, ugly face,” among other gross in­sults Trump has hurled over the years. But aside from con­grat­u­lat­ing him­self for his re­straint in not say­ing some­thing “ex­tremely rough to Hil­lary, to her fam­ily,” Trump had no re­sponse to the ques­tion of his treat­ment of Machado.

But the fol­low­ing morn­ing on “Fox and Friends,” Trump could not re­sist elab­o­rat­ing. He said of Machado that “she was the winner and, you know, she gained a mas­sive amount of weight and it was a real prob­lem ... not only that, her at­ti­tude.” He called her “the worst we ever had. The worst. The ab­so­lute worst. She was im­pos­si­ble.”

Machado did go on a diet dur­ing her Miss Uni­verse reign af­ter gain­ing, she said, about 15 pounds. Trump went on Fox News again Wed­nes­day and told Bill O’Reilly that by fat-sham­ing Machado, “I saved her job . ... And look what I get out of it. I get noth­ing.” So who here is be­ing piggy? The Clin­ton cam­paign had an­tic­i­pated that rais­ing the Machado in­ci­dent would get a rise out of Trump. He helped fo­cus a spot­light on one of the more un­sa­vory facets of his per­son­al­ity: an ugly, un­re­pen­tant sex­ism that would have been in­ap­pro­pri­ate even in the “Mad Men” era — and is lightyears be­yond the pale to­day.

Trump’s sur­ro­gates are not help­ing. Newt Gin­grich of­fered the de­fense that “you’re not sup­posed to gain 60 pounds dur­ing the year that you’re Miss Uni­verse.” For Trump and Gin­grich, both of whom have am­ple spare tires where their waists should be, to crit­i­cize any­one about his or her weight is ridicu­lous. Bet­ter to point fin­gers at each other rather than at Machado.

The Clin­ton cam­paign is al­ready run­ning a pow­er­ful ad in which Trump’s voice ut­ters a string of sex­ist com­ments while the viewer sees im­ages of young women. Trump’s cam­paign man­ager, Kellyanne Conway, is a poll­ster; she knows that most vot­ers are women, and that women al­ready fa­vor Clin­ton by a wide mar­gin. This ter­rain is po­ten­tially lethal to Trump’s hopes, but no one has yet man­aged to zip his lip.

Trump’s threat to say some­thing “ex­tremely rough” was a ref­er­ence to Bill Clin­ton’s in­fi­deli­ties. For a man who has had three wives, and who cheated on the first two, this is a case of the pot call­ing the ket­tle black.

The hus­band of the ket­tle, ac­tu­ally: I have a hard time be­liev­ing that in this day and age, a man would ac­tu­ally try to blame a woman for her hus­band’s in­dis­cre­tions. But that ap­pears to be the cliff’s edge that Trump is hurtling to­ward.

Clin­ton, on the other hand, has the chance to make his­tory. Not enough is be­ing made of the ob­vi­ous fact that she would be the first fe­male pres­i­dent. Coun­tries such as In­dia, Ar­gentina, Chile, Brazil and Liberia have all reached this mile­stone be­fore the United States. It’s about time.

When you watched the de­bate Mon­day night, you saw a woman who was pre­pared, poised and per­fectly un­flap­pable. And you saw a man who was try­ing to wing it, with lit­tle grasp of the is­sues and less abil­ity to con­trol his im­pulses. He bluffed and blus­tered. He in­sisted on “facts” that were un­fac­tual. He in­ter­rupted his op­po­nent con­stantly, ap­par­ently not grasp­ing the con­cept of wait­ing one’s turn. He sub­sti­tuted chest-thump­ing ar­ro­gance for ac­tual sub­stance.

I’m guess­ing that many women who will vote in Novem­ber might know a man or two who act that way. Not good for Trump.

Eu­gene Robin­son is syn­di­cated by the Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. His email ad­dress is eu­gen­er­obin­son@ wash­post.com.

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