The un­con­trol­lable can­di­date

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Su­san Estrich Su­san Estrich is syn­di­cated by Cre­ators Syn­di­cate.

His daugh­ter knew what to say. So did his run­ning mate and his cam­paign man­ager. They all knew the ques­tion was coming. And the an­swer was sim­ple: Yes — bar­ring some ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances, such as what hap­pened in the 2000 elec­tion, “Of course we’ll accept.” “Ab­so­lutely, we will.”

Will what? Abide by the Con­sti­tu­tion of the United States. Accept the re­sults cer­ti­fied by the states and then of­fi­cially by the Elec­toral Col­lege.

The truth is that it doesn’t mat­ter what Don­ald Trump says. If the states cer­tify Hil­lary Clin­ton as the can­di­date who has won the ma­jor­ity of elec­toral votes and the Elec­toral Col­lege of­fi­cially elects her, Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice John Roberts will swear her in as pres­i­dent and ev­ery elected of­fi­cial will be on that plat­form with her.

So why didn’t Don­ald Trump say on Wed­nes­day what he knew on Tues­day was the an­swer he should give and was the an­swer ev­ery­one forced him to give on Thurs­day?

Be­cause, quite clearly, he didn’t want to. He’d spent at least 20 min­utes or so “on script,” which means he was act­ing like a se­ri­ous and care­ful can­di­date for high of­fice and not like a ra­dio talk show host try­ing to get the lines to light up by say­ing out­ra­geous things.

And he was clearly sick of it, as you might ex­pect him to be. That is just not who Trump is. He doesn’t lis­ten to any­body. He says what no one else would. He is nicer to Vladimir Putin than he is to Clin­ton. He says things that aren’t true with to­tal im­punity. The facts don’t mat­ter. The fact check­ers are all bi­ased, ac­cord­ing to him, and if he doesn’t win, it’s be­cause it was rigged. He is a hero to a mi­nor­ity of a mi­nor­ity of Amer­i­cans who are sick of politi­cians and pun­dits and busi­ness-as-usual pol­i­tics, which is cer­tainly un­der­stand­able. Un­for­tu­nately for them, Trump is not their an­swer.

The most im­por­tant thing a chal­lenger al­ways has to prove is that he or she is not too big a risk. Lee At­wa­ter, the first Pres­i­dent Bush’s cam­paign man­ager, used to call it the lit­tle boat. If you can’t con­vince a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans that you aren’t too big a risk, you can’t win. Ron­ald Rea­gan bril­liantly met the test in his one and only de­bate with then-Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter by his ap­peal­ing and re­as­sur­ing pres­ence and his bril­liant de­liv­ery of the two mem­o­rable lines from that night: “There you go again” (in re­sponse to Carter’s ef­forts to string to­gether all of Rea­gan’s mis­state­ments); and “Are you bet­ter off to­day than you were four years ago?” Elec­tion won. If they ac­com­plish noth­ing else, de­bates de­fine who could win. And who could not .

Un­til the first de­bate, I al­most be­lieved Trump could win. That is al­most cer­tainly be­cause I had never re­ally spent 90 min­utes off script with him. Once I did, I could not be­lieve that es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans, who I used to think had so much more con­trol over their “party” than Democrats, could have let this guy be nom­i­nated. To be hon­est, I was never afraid of John McCain or Mitt Rom­ney. I didn’t find them scary or risky; I just didn’t agree with them on many pol­icy is­sues.

Trump is scary, not be­cause he doesn’t know the rules of a democ­racy, but be­cause he thinks that no rules ap­ply to him. It’s a great style for a provoca­tive me­dia host; he is, ac­cord­ing to Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia pro­fes­sor Ann Crigler, far bet­ter at us­ing so­cial me­dia, es­pe­cially Twit­ter, than Clin­ton. But Twit­ter ca­pa­bil­i­ties have very lit­tle to do with run­ning the coun­try and deal­ing with the world.

Lest any­one think he learned a les­son by Wed­nes­day’s de­ba­cle, The Don­ald made clear on Thurs­day, the last time he and Clin­ton would be to­gether, that no one was go­ing to con­trol him. I am ab­so­lutely cer­tain that Kellyanne Con­way, his cam­paign man­ager, knows the dif­fer­ence be­tween good fun and per­sonal at­tacks, be­tween hu­mor and just plain mean­ness. And if she didn’t tell him what was ap­pro­pri­ate for an Al Smith din­ner, a tra­di­tion in New York hosted by Car­di­nal Ti­mothy Dolan, the crowd did. They booed Trump. And he kept go­ing.

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