From time to time, the president's conduct becomes so egregious and counter-productive that I feel compelled to address it directly, rather than just shaking my head and muttering to myself about his self-destructive tendencies. This is not about 'virtue signaling' or placating the Trump derangement crowd, but rather stating something clearly and openly: What the president is doing is not only wrong, gross, and plumbing the depths of public discourse; it is also harming his re-election chances. Perhaps those Trump supporters who do not agree with the former portion of that analysis will also refuse to believe the latter. That's their prerogative, but they're turning a blind eye to a dynamic that threatens Trump's prospects for winning a second term. Exit polls from 2016 found that Donald Trump trounced Hillary Clinton among the many Americans who disliked both candidates, beating her by 17 points among this sizable group of voters. What about 2020?
Unlike in 2016, when a large group of voters who disliked both Trump and Hillary Clinton broke sharply for Trump, the opposite is happening now, according to public polling and private surveys conducted by Republicans and Democrats alike...Four years later, that same group — including a mix of Bernie Sanders supporters, other Democrats, disaffected Republicans and independents — strongly prefers Biden, the polling shows. The former vice president leads Trump by more than 40 percentage points among that group, which accounts for nearly a quarter of registered voters, according to a Monmouth University poll last week.
Some people have internalized the lesson that Trump's significant personal unfavorability (40/53 in the current polling average) doesn't matter because he overcame an unprecedented favorability deficit last cycle. But he had the advantage of facing another historically-loathed candidate four years ago. Pitted against a less-disliked, generic Democrat this round, Trump's exhausting, outrageous comportment has a much stronger chance of eroding his electoral prospects. And in the eyes of many undecided voters, his comportment is both exhausting and outrageous. In addition to retweeting childish insults directed at various critics and opponents, Trump has devoted numerous pronouncements in recent days -- as the US COVID-19 death toll approached 100,000, and over a holiday weekend in which we honor our nation's war dead -- to promoting an unhinged conspiracy theory about MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. The thrust of it is that Scarborough played a role, strongly hinted to be nefarious, in the death of a young female aide during his tenure as a Republican Congressman from Florida. Some lowlights of these attacks, which have dragged on for weeks:
....about whether or not Joe could have done such a horrible thing? Maybe or maybe not, but I find Joe to be a total Nut Job, and I knew him well, far better than most. So many unanswered & obvious questions, but I won’t bring them up now! Law enforcement eventually will?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2020
A blow to her head? Body found under his desk? Left Congress suddenly? Big topic of discussion in Florida...and, he’s a Nut Job (with bad ratings). Keep digging, use forensic geniuses! https://t.co/UxbS5gZecd— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2020
When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder? Some people think so. Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly? Isn’t it obvious? What’s happening now? A total nut job!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2020
“Concast” should open up a long overdue Florida Cold Case against Psycho Joe Scarborough. I know him and Crazy Mika well, used them beautifully in the last Election, dumped them nicely, and will state on the record that he is “nuts”. Besides, bad ratings! #OPENJOECOLDCASE— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2020
And on and on it goes, including another tweet this morning. The established truth is that 28-year-old Lori Klausutis died in Scarborough's district office in 2001. The medical examiner performed an autopsy and concluded that Klausutis suffered from an undiagnosed heart condition, which caused her to pass out. As she fainted, she struck her head on a desk, and died. There were no indications of foul play, according to police. Furthermore, "the death occurred a month after Scarborough announced he was leaving office. Scarborough was in Washington when Klausutis died," the Associated Press reported. This is not a cold case. It's a closed case. Given Trump's long history of spreading toxic, absurd nonsense in order to gain what he perceives to be some momentary advantage, many people may have grown inured to these sorts of histrionics. It is what it is. He's a fighter and he's blowing off steam.
The problem with that attitude, beyond becoming a catch-all excuse to justify grotesque behavior, is that it ignores the real pain it can inflict upon ordinary people. Imagine, for instance, being someone who loved Ms. Klausutis, and for whom her untimely death was a life-altering tragedy. Then imagine the most powerful person in the world publicly and repeatedly dredging up her memory to stir baseless innuendo as a means of rank retaliation for unfavorable cable news commentary. Imagine no further. Just read this letter from Klausutis' husband, who is asking Twitter to delete the president's posts:
Nearly 19 years ago, my wife, who had an undiagnosed heart condition, fell and hit her head on her desk at work. She was found dead the next morning. Her name is Lori Kaye Klausutis and she was 28 years old when she died. Her passing is the single most painful thing that I have ever had to deal with in my 52 years and continues to haunt her parents and sister. I have mourned my wife every day since her passing. I have tried to honor her memory and our marriage. As her husband, I feel that one of my marital obligations is to protect her memory as I would have protected her in life. There has been a constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died. I realize that may sound like an exaggeration, unfortunately it is the verifiable truth. Because of this, I have struggled to move forward with my life. The frequency, intensity, ugliness, and promulgation of these horrifying lies ever increases on the internet. These conspiracy theorists, including most recently the President of the United States, continue to spread their bile and misinformation on your platform disparaging the memory of my wife and our marriage. President Trump on Tuesday tweeted to his nearly 80 million followers alluding to the repeatedly debunked falsehood that my wife was murdered by her boss, former U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough.
...My request is simple: Please delete these tweets...The President's tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered without evidence and contrary to the official autopsy)—is a violation of Twitter's community rules and terms of service. An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed...I am now angry as well as frustrated and grieved. I understand that Twitter's policies about content are designed to maintain the appearance that your hands are clean you provide the platform and the rest is up to users. However, in certain past cases, Twitter has removed content and accounts that are inconsistent with your terms of service. I'm asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong him — the memory of my dead wife and perverted it for perceived political gain. I would also ask that you consider Lori's niece and two nephews who will eventually come across this filth in the future. They have never met their Aunt and it pains me to think they would ever have to hear about her this way. My wife deserves better.
The full letter is here, to which Twitter has responded with a sympathetic and noncommittal statement. The president basically shrugged off the content of the letter at a press conference yesterday, again insinuating without evidence that there's a sordid angle to the circumstances of the woman's death, and wrongly suggesting that the deceased woman's husband actually agrees with his desire to 'get to the bottom' of what happened. But there's nothing to get to the bottom of. As for the appeal to Twitter, I actually do not agree that the tech platform should delete posts from the president. The content he produces is newsworthy and often contains announcements of policy or political significance. Like it or not, fair or unfair, @realDonaldTrump simply is not an average user. Even if it were definitively proven that some of his tweets violate Twitter's terms of service, given the high office he occupies, I don't think it serves the public interest for his comments to be censored. The president's words should speak for themselves. And they do -- for better, and too often, for worse.
Finally, I have written previously about Joe Biden's puzzling and creepy revisionist history regarding a terrible personal tragedy, which has needlessly and gratuitously compounded the pain of another family. How can one be put off by that situation, yet choose to excuse or ignore Trump's execrable actions here? I'll leave you with this, which goes to my point about self-inflicted political damage, via Trump's oft-cited, favorite pollster:
It’s almost as if behaving absolutely reprehensibly in the middle of a serious crisis is unappealing, and that people notice. https://t.co/y5UZQfBesP— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) May 27, 2020