In less than a month, the GOP will choose its nominee in Cleveland, a city reveling in its first major sports championship since 1964. Until the Cleveland Browns season begins, Cleveland is for winners. Donald Trump has promised to make America great again, but is Trump capable of delivering a win for the GOP and the country? His responses to the Orlando massacre suggest otherwise.
The man whose campaign was ignited by a serious concern – Muslim terrorism – but appropriately vilified for his proposal to address it – banning Muslim immigration – was given a political mulligan, a chance to show the country he’s presidential timbre after his questionable attacks on the federal judge hearing the case against Trump University. The political moment didn’t require Trump to do anything new or novel: express sympathy for the victims and condemn the shooter, and he would have acquitted himself respectably.
But Trump couldn’t help himself: he went on a gloating parade and instead of issuing a presidential sounding message of resolve and comfort, Trump congratulated himself on his supposed foresight about Islamic terrorism and used the tragedy as another chance to push his ludicrous proposal to ban Muslim immigrants.
This all-about-me response reinforced the idea that his whole campaign is just a promotional tour for Trump. Trump also failed a vital test for the office he seeks. The president is not only commander-in-chief, but also comforter-in-chief. After Trump’s post-Orlando performance, could anyone see him in that role?
Trump’s Orlando response also highlighted his shoot from the hip approach to difficult policy issues. Weighing in on the gun control debate, he said that the shooting may not have happened if club patrons had been armed, but then clarified that he was referring to security guards or employees. Right.
The result of this incoherence is that America isn’t buying Trump, literally. Trump and the RNC raised only $18.6 million in May, a quarter of what Mitt Romney raised four years ago, and Trump has only $1.3 million in the bank now. Too, the RNC’s cash on hand, $20 million, is only a third of what it was four years ago.
Incredibly, the Trump campaign has only 70 staff members nationwide, just a few shy of Hillary Clinton’s 700. And the Trump campaign, which has not aired a TV ad since May, has not booked any advertising for the summer or fall. Perhaps for these reasons, and the flagging poll numbers, Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, called it quits on Monday, calling into question the future of the Trump train.
It didn’t have to be this way. After his record setting presidential primary campaign, in which he won more GOP primary votes than anyone ever had (nearly 14 million), Trump drew even with Hillary Clinton in the national polls, and led in critical swing state polls.
Then, Orlando terrorist Omar Mateen’s rampage reminded the nation that President Obama was tragically wrong when he called ISIS the jayvee team, and confirmed that Trump was correct about the threat of Islamist terror. Unfortunately, Trump’s response to the shooting makes him more like the Golden State Warriors, squandering momentum at the moment of truth.
Despite the torrent of bad news, Hillary Clinton is still Hillary Clinton. The email investigation persists, Bernie Sanders’ voters aren’t rushing to her, and Hillary is not trusted by many in her own party and most outside it.
Also, the Obama administration validates Trump’s concerns, and his appeal, by its persistent refusal to call the enemy what it is: Islamic. When the Obama administration announced its intention to redact from the Orlando 911 calls any references to ISIS, it magnified two of Trump’s attributes: he calls it like it is, and he isn’t politically correct.
So Trump still has an opening, a very narrow one. If he takes a Twitter timeout, raises real money and starts acting like a future president, he could salvage his campaign. If not, the GOP should amend its convention rules, free the pledged delegates, and dump Trump in favor of someone whose very existence does not threaten the GOP’s control of the nation’s gubernatorial offices, statehouses, and Congress, someone who can actually make good on the promise to make America great again.