If chaos, disorganization and mixed messages on policy are a mark of success, Trump had a banner week. But for those of us watching to see whether Trump could bring a badly fractured party and country together, it was a disaster.
The Trump campaign's refusal to acknowledge that parts of Melania's speech were taken word for word from Michelle Obama's 2008 speech to the Democratic National Convention dominated the news for almost three days. It could have been a one-day story, but the campaign's adamant, blatantly false denials turned it into three. And no sooner had Team Trump put one controversy to bed than it stoked another.
Ted Cruz's failure to endorse the nominee was, apparently, no surprise to the campaign. Staffers had a copy of his speech for three days prior to his delivering it. So why did they extend his time from 10 minutes to 20? The only possible explanation is that they hoped for exactly what happened on the convention floor -- the booing and jeering of Cruz.
But the melee also managed to upstage the evening's star, Mike Pence. Trump's vice presidential pick was supposed to add gravitas to the ticket. Pence warned in his speech that the United States "cannot have four more years apologizing to our enemies and abandoning our friends. America needs to be strong for the world to be safe." But no sooner had he uttered those words than The New York Times published an interview with Trump done earlier that day, which threw those sentiments under the bus.
Trump told The New York Times that he would reverse 67 years of American foreign policy by disregarding Article 5 of the NATO treaty if he felt that member nations haven't "fulfilled their obligations to us." He also said he'd shred NAFTA "in a split second." These are treaties signed by presidents of the United States and ratified by the U.S. Senate.
A Trump administration would mean adios to the rule of law and welcome to rule of one. For those actually listening to what he says he would do, it sounds like a more bellicose version of the current administration -- with the president following the laws he likes and disregarding or rewriting those he doesn't.
In a normal election cycle, this would be enough to defeat a candidate. President Gerald Ford's re-election odds famously plummeted when he declared in a presidential debate, "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe," arguing that Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia were free from Soviet interference. In 1976, such blunders could actually doom a candidate. This year, Trump's gaffes have been so numerous and outrageous that no single misstatement or insult seems to stick.
Even Trump's disparaging remarks about America in that same Times article will probably go unnoticed. "When the world sees how bad the United States is and we start talking about civil liberties, I don't think we are a very good messenger," he said when asked why he seemed to be defending Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's jailing of 50,000 people after the failed coup that tried to oust the leader.
Trump also called for pulling out U.S. troops from South Korea, noting that if we hadn't stayed on the peninsula after the Korean conflict, "maybe you would have had a unified Korea." Apparently, it doesn't matter to Trump that that would most likely mean one under the rule of Kim Jong Un, about whom Trump has admiringly said, "You've got to give him credit. ... He goes in; he takes over; and he's the boss. It's incredible."
There is no doubt that Trump's true believers will end the week thinking their guy is a winner. But I can't imagine that most undecided voters will feel the same. The Trump convention gave us controversy, plagiarism, heckles, boos and cries of "lock her up" about the Democratic nominee. It was full of anger, even hatred, and remarkably devoid of policy.
Will any of this matter on Election Day? I think so, not that people will go into the voting booth remembering the missteps made in July. But the likelihood that we will see more of the same for the next 100 days virtually guarantees Republican defeat. This week was Donald Trump's chance to show those not yet in his camp that he can indeed lead the nation to a more prosperous, secure and principled future. He failed, utterly.