Let’s check in with the Republican frontrunner – call it The Daily Donald – and assess the latest debasement of the presidential race. This time, we have thuggish shenanigans in the boudoir, and a Trump spokesman who’s in dire need of anger management.
This is what happens when a baggage-laden blowhard vaults to the top of the polls. Candidates’ lives are always laid bare, and they have to be able to handle the fallout. That alone is a crucial test of character, of their ability to deal with adversity. Turns out (big surprise!) that Donald Trump is a tad raw in that department.
On Monday night, The Daily Beast website resurrected a seamy episode from Trump’s past – as first described in the 1993 biography Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump. According to the bio, Trump had a bad experience with a plastic surgeon that his then-wife, Ivana, had recommended. This was in 1989. Trump confronted Ivana and said, “Your (fricking) doctor has ruined me!” Whereupon, according to the bio, he launched a “violent assault” – pulling hair from her scalp, tearing off her clothes and…how shall I put this…forcing himself upon her.
The biographer, a Newsweek writer named Harry Hurt III, then writes: “According to versions (Ivana) repeats to some of her closest confidantes, ‘he raped me.'” Ivana also used the word rape in a deposition, during their divorce proceedings.
But as the book neared publication in ’93, she tried to soften the blow with a new statement: “During a deposition given by me in connection with my matrimonial case, I stated that my husband had raped me….(O)n one occasion during 1989, Mr. Trump and I had marital relations in which he behaved very differently toward me than he had during our marriage. As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited towards me, was absent. I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”
The Daily Beast recounts all this, and much more, in its Monday story. It also includes Trump’s ’93 denial, and his predictable attack on Harry Hurt: “It’s obviously false. it’s incorrect and done by a guy without much talent….He is a guy that is an unattractive guy who is a vindictive and jealous person.”
As I said earlier, it’s SOP for the press to plumb a candidate’s past. George W. Bush had a DUI arrest in 1976, John Kerry did or didn’t earn his Vietnam medals, Bill Clinton was a serial gubernatorial womanizer, a young Barack Obama toked weed in his Choom Gang – everything is up for inspection. Including the allegation from a Trump ex-wife that she “felt violated,” or however she wants to spin her original claim.
But what matters most, at least in terms of political politesse, is how candidates and their spinners behave while under fire. And this is where Team Trump demonstrates that it’s not ready for prime time.
Here’s how Trump lawyer Michael Cohen – clearly speaking for the campaign – responded last weekend when first contacted by a Daily Beast reporter:
“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know. So I’m warning you, tread very (fricking) lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be (fricking) disgusting. You understand me? You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word rape, and I’m going to mess your life up…for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet…you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it.”
Wait, he’s not done yet: “Though there’s many literal senses to the word (rape), if you distort it, and you put Mr. Trump’s name there onto it, rest assured, you will suffer the consequences. So you do whatever you want. You want to ruin your life at the age of 20? You do that, and I’ll be happy to serve it right up to you.”
Well, forgive me for stating the obvious: A campaign spokesman is supposed to defuse a situation, not douse it with lighter fluid and set it aflame. But alas, this is how Trump has always dealt with a skeptical press corps. It’s not very presidential, but, hey, it’s him. Conservative commentator S. E. Cupp wrote yesterday in a New York Daily News column, “As appalling and unprofessional as Cohen’s threats are, they’re an accurate reflection of Trump’s own philosophy when it comes to dealing with less-than-fawning reporters: Shut them down, by any means necessary.”
Rule two: A campaign spokesman is supposed to know what he’s talking about. For instance, Cohen insisted that even if Ivana had been raped (which he says she wasn’t), that would be irrelevant, because, in his words, “You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.”
Um. Spousal rape has been illegal in all 50 states since 1993. And at the time of the alleged ’89 incident in New York, spousal rape was already illegal in New York. Trump might want to consider hiring a brighter lawyer.
By the way, Trump is now insisting that Cohen is merely a lawyer on his corporate side, that Cohen is not a campaign spokesman. A different Trump flak told CNN yesterday, “Mr. Trump speaks for Mr. Trump and nobody but Mr. Trump speaks for him.” Despite the fact that Cohen has repeatedly appeared on TV as a campaign spokesman for Mr. Trump. (Cohen has issued the ritual apology, regretting that he lashed out in a “moment of shock and anger.”)
Anyway. Do we think this latest episode will damage his standing at the top (?!) of the Republican polls? Nah.
A sizeable chunk of The Base is so disenchanted with the Republican establishment (which has failed to abolish Obamacare and gay wedding cakes) that Trump’s mold-breaking looks like a breath of fresh air. Smearing illegal Mexican immigrants as “rapists” – that’s telling it like is. Threatening to ruin a reporter’s life – that’s thuggery they can get with. It’s ultimately bad for the Republican brand, but it’s sure a ton of fun.
And we haven’t even begun to plumb Thump’s alleged dealings with the mob. To quote William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”