Last week, 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump dropped his second headline-making comment of the race. Responding to statements from Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., in which McCain labeled Trump's supporters on immigration "crazies," Trump shot back that McCain wasn't a war hero, because he had been captured. "I like people who weren't captured," Trump said, paraphrasing a 2008 Chris Rock routine in Michael Scott-like fashion.
Trump's shot was mean, nasty, uncalled for, and idiotic.
The media world immediately declared Trump's campaign over. A few days before the comments, Huffington Post -- a publication created by onetime failed California gubernatorial candidate Arianna Huffington -- announced that it would feature Trump in its entertainment section rather than its politics section. The Wall Street Journal editorial board opined, "It came slightly ahead of schedule, but Donald Trump's inevitable self-immolation arrived on the weekend when he assailed John McCain's war record. The question now is how long his political and media apologists on the right will keep pretending he's a serious candidate."
Trump's rival candidates leapt on the opportunity to throw dirt on Trump's political grave. Governor Rick Perry, R-Texas, said, "I have no confidence that he could adeptly lead our nation's armed forces. His comments over the weekend should completely and immediately disqualify him from seeking our nation's highest office." Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said, "I do think it's a disqualifier as commander in chief." Both trail Trump substantially in the polls.
Trump will, and ought to, take a serious hit in those polls after his McCain idiocy. But he will not go down this easily. That's because Trump exemplifies two qualities many Republican voters seek: brashness and an unwillingness to back down in the face of critics.
Trump's brashness is both his blessing and his curse -- but unlike Spider-Man, Trump seems unable to comprehend that with great power comes great responsibility. He says foolish things, and then refuses to back down from them. But that stubbornness seems to act as a counterweight to his brashness, in an odd way: Conservatives hungry for an unapologetic candidate resonate to Trump, even if he should apologize for his latest tomfoolery. Trump puts himself in a position to draw fire from both the establishment Republicans and the media; when he draws that fire, even for good reason, the base leaps to his defense.
Even better for Trump, his long history of making inane comments means that it will be tough for any one comment to finish him. Like Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, Trump is so flawed a candidate that it's difficult to tell where the fatal flaw may lie. In such a scenario, flaws become assets. Trump has shifted his positions? Sure, but he's done so constantly -- he's a man of the moment, many believe, and thus we can believe whatever nostrum falls from his lips now. Trump has engaged in corrupt dealings? Sure, but he's so rich that he won't need to take payoffs, unlike those he's already paid off. Trump never shuts up? Well, at least he won't shut up when told to by those in power.
Upper echelon Republicans make a mistake in disqualifying Trump. Democrats never do this: Hillary won't call Bernie Sanders unfit for office, or vice versa. Trump will undoubtedly disqualify himself eventually, as well he should. Republicans can either learn from Trump's better qualities while discarding his worse ones, or they can try to destroy Trump as quickly as possible. The first strategy would be useful, the second wildly counterproductive. Unfortunately, as usual, the Republicans seem to be pursuing the worst possible option.