A transparent, intelligence-insulting lie:
In case you missed Katie's post earlier, Rolling Stone has relayed a charming anecdote about Donald Trump's impromptu commentary on Carly Fiorina's physical appearance. These comments were made in front of a reporter, as the candidate's klatch of frat boy sycophants giggle nervously:
With his blue tie loosened and slung over his shoulder, Trump sits back to digest his meal and provide a running byplay to the news. Onscreen, they've cut away to a spot with Scott Walker, the creaky-robot governor of Wisconsin. Praised by the anchor for his "slow but steady" style, Walker is about to respond when Trump chimes in, "Yeah, he's slow, all right! That's what we got already: slowwww." His staffers at the conference table howl and hoot; their man, though, is just getting warm. When the anchor throws to Carly Fiorina for her reaction to Trump's momentum, Trump's expression sours in schoolboy disgust as the camera bores in on Fiorina. "Look at that face!" he cries. "Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!" The laughter grows halting and faint behind him. "I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not s'posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?"
Confronted with his appalling rudeness, Trump pretends that his multiple references to Carly's face were really just observations about her "persona." No harm, no foul. This is even less believable than Trump's after-the-fact insistence that his snide remark about Fox News host Megyn Kelly was not a reference to her menstrual cycle, as many people had interpreted it. After weeks of whining about Kelly's pointed GOP debate question challenging him on his long history of making demeaning and mean-spirited comments about women, Trump seems intent on vindicating Kelly, going so far as to boosting a tweet referring to Kelly as a "bimbo" late last month. Fiorina has taken the high road in response to The Donald's boorishness thus far, perhaps saving her best ammo for next week's nationally-televised debate. As Matt Welch says, though, perhaps the more revealing passage of the Rolling Stone piece is this recapitulation of how Trump appears to be crafting policy positions on-the-fly, leaning on journalists to educate him:
[W]e've spent hours in his office and haven't gotten around yet to a single policy question, beyond his assurance that we'd touch on "all that stuff" later. […] Not 60 seconds pass before he looks at me again. "You know New Hampshire has a huge problem with heroin? Why do ya s'pose that is?" I tell him that it probably has to do with OxyContin and school kids raiding their parents' medicine chests. They run out of pills, then find that bags of heroin are cheaper. "Yeah? Well, which is worse for you, the heroin or the pills?" I explain that they're both derivatives of opium, which is dicey however it's delivered. "Hunh!" he says. "Interesting. I didn't know that. But I gotta get back to my notes!" (At a press conference, an hour later, he'll respond to a question about heroin in New Hampshire by saying that "it starts probably with OxyContin, from what I'm hearing.") Sixty seconds pass. "Hey, you believe this goddamn ISIS? Chopping people's heads off, putting people in cages and drowning 'em. We gotta waterboard 'em, don't you agree?" I tell him I'm not in favor of chopping people's heads off, and ask if he'd sanction waterboarding as president. He begins a rambling answer, then asks the woman across from me if she believes in the practice of waterboarding. And so it goes for the 26 minutes it takes us to fly from New York to Hampton, New Hampshire…
Perhaps he should request a foreign policy cram session with Hugh Hewitt, rather than petulantly slamming him as "third rate" for asking "gotcha" questions that the radio host routinely poses to candidates. The GOP frontrunner's campaign website still lists precisely one issue on its "positions" page. None of this will matter to many of his supporters, of course. Trump is running as a visceral, post-knowledge, post-manners candidate; he offer an intoxicating elixir of populism, anti-establishmentism and belligerence that's hooked a growing segment of the primary electorate:
Another strong second place showing for Ben Carson, with whom Trump has also begun to engage in rhetorical warfare. Carson recently came out against Trump's (improvised) mass deportations immigration plan, drawing the billionaire's ire. Trump has proceeded to dismiss Carson as an "okay" -- not "great" -- surgeon (!), and even less engaging than Jeb Bush, whom he often ridicules as "low energy." Trump and Carson are now feuding over the issue of faith, with each questioning the other's religious devotion. For what it's worth, Carson has written extensively about his Christianity and rose to national political prominence after delivering a memorable speech in front of President Obama at the 2013 national prayer breakfast. Trump can't recall ever asking God for forgiveness, doesn't relate to any Biblical characters, and can't or won't cite a favorite passage from the Bible -- which he calls his "can't beat" favorite book. What's striking about these most recent contretemps is that Trump has started training his fire on his fellow political "outsiders" in the race, as opposed to the politicians in the field. We'll see if he escalates things, and if it hurts him at all with potential supporters who may enjoy his skewering of the political class, but aren't keen on seeing broadsides against rivals like Carson and Fiorina. For what it's worth, my money is on 'yes' and 'no,' respectively.