It’s the darndest thing. Every time Donald Trump tries to “reboot,” to engineer a presidential “pivot,” his best laid plans go awry. Either he blows himself up, or his fellow Republicans light the fuse.
Yesterday was classic. Trump sketched his vision for the American economy – cobbled together by an all-white-guy coterie of Wall Street execs and big donors, basically an economic C-Team – and it was largely what you’d expect, a recycled trickle-down plan that skews toward the corporate sector and the rich. Its massive top-end tax cuts would flood the budget ledger with oceans of red ink – a la Reagan and Bush II – and it would do very little for the low-end working stiffs who have bought Trump’s con.
On the other hand, he managed to read the whole speech without improv-riffing about how great he is, and he didn’t assail the protestors who disrupted his reading. So there’s that. I suppose that qualifies as a “pivot.”
But alas, on the same day that Trump sought to exude gravitas, he was undercut in the worst possible way, by 50 senior national security officials – all of whom served in key positions under Republican presidents dating back to Richard Nixon. They stated in an open letter that Trump “is not qualified to be President and Commander-in-Chief.” And that was one of their milder observations.
The signers – including former CIA director Michael Hayden, former Homeland Security secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, former national intelligence director John Negroponte, and (by my count) at least 14 senior alums of the National Security Council – basically laid out the indictment that Hillary Clinton can simply quote from now to November:
None of us will vote for Donald Trump….Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous president and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being….Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself. He continues to display an alarming ignorance of basic facts of contemporary international politics….He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be President and Commander-in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
All that (and more), on the same day that Republican Senator Susan Collins decided to bail. In a Washington Post guest column, she wrote: “Mr. Trump lacks the temperament, self-discipline and judgment required to be president….Mr. Trump’s lack of self-restraint and his barrage of ill-informed comments would make an already perilous world even more so.”
I suppose the Trumpkins will try to rationalize these developments. They can always tell themselves, “Voters don’t care about those 50 national security officials,” and “who cares about Susan Collins, she’s an establishment insider,” or whatever. They can feed that pap to their trolls. But that national security letter is manifest evidence of unprecedented Republican disunity; never before have senior professionals sought to isolate their own party’s nominee, assailing him as Dr. Strangelove minus the intellect. And it arrives at a time when Trump is plunging in the national polls – a new one today has him down by 10 points – feeding the perception of a potentially irreversible collapse.
The gist of the message: Why should voters bother to parse Trump’s economic plan – his embrace of Republican trickle-down economics: big cuts for the wealthy and corporate interests; the elimination of the estate tax, so that the rich can gift all their money to their heirs (thus erasing $25 billion a year in tax revenue); easing up on Wall Street regulation – if the guy is too unhinged to be trusted with our nuclear arsenal? That cosmic question threatens to dog him to the bitter end.
By the way. Trump’s economic speech was predictably packed with misstatements and lies, but one in particular scaled the heights of hilarity. He claimed that Hillary Clinton, at a recent campaign event, “accidentally told the truth and said she wanted to raise taxes on the middle class.”
Actually, she said the exact opposite.
Trump repeated a lie that his campaign had circulated over the weekend. According to the Trump team, Clinton declared during a Nebraska rally that “we are going to raise taxes on the middle class.” (As if any candidate in American politics would ever say such a thing on the stump.) The Trump team put that doctored quote into a campaign video.
In reality, of course, this is what Clinton said: “I’m telling you right now we’re going to write fairer rules for the middle class, and we aren’t going to raise taxes on the middle class.” Somehow, the Trumpkins (and their tweeting trolls) convinced themselves that she said are instead of aren’t.
The fact-checkers duly summoned sound experts to confirm that she said aren’t. And if that’s not clear enough, the transcript of Clinton’s remarks has the sentence in plain sight: “we aren’t going to raise taxes on the middle class.”
So much for Wordgate.
Best of all, according to the transcript, this is what Clinton said next: “And while we’re at it, we would like to see (Trump’s) tax returns, wouldn’t we?….He doesn’t even respect the American people enough to do what every other presidential candidate has done for decades and release them. It’s time for Trump to stop hiding.”
Gee. Trump didn’t even try to doctor that passage.