Donald Trump is not really running a campaign for president anymore. Instead, he is involved in an extended revenge plot or is simply following the politics of grievance to its natural, unseemly end.
See, campaigns have a message. They have strategy and tactics. They show restraint and coordination.
Trump, in the days since the release of a hot-mic tape of him making lewd and sexually suggestive comments about women, has done none of those things. Literally none.
The Washington Post’s Jose Del Real counted more than 20 different messages from Trump during a five-minute span of a speech the Republican presidential nominee delivered in North Carolina last week. That was the same speech in which Trump took apart his teleprompters onstage – one was malfunctioning – and insisted that he would not pay the company that provided them. (This all happened on Earth in the year 2016.)
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Then there was the way in which Trump reacted to the women – nine as of Sunday morning – who alleged that he had groped or kissed them at some point over the past three decades. Trump insisted that the allegations were untrue but then repeatedly noted that the women making the allegations were not attractive enough for anyone to take seriously their charges that he harassed them. Um, what?
But, wait, there’s more. Much, much more. Trump last week began to talk seriously about a global conspiracy aimed at keeping him from the White House. “This is a conspiracy against you, the American people, and we cannot let this happen or continue,” Trump said during a Thursday rally in West Palm Beach, Florida.
He has repeatedly used – in his speeches and on his evermore active and inflammatory Twitter account – the word “rigged” to describe the election, an attempt to discredit and disqualify the results even before Election Day. (His running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said Sunday during an interview on “Meet the Press” that the election was being “rigged,” but he insisted that the handing over of power – no matter who wins – will be peaceful.)
And, finally, there is the way Trump has talked about Hillary Clinton over the past week. He has called her a “liar.” He has said she should be “locked up.” (In the second presidential debate on Oct. 9, Trump said he would appoint a special prosecutor to look into Clinton’s tenure at the State Department if he is elected president.) He has told a crowd that he was not impressed when Clinton walked by him on the debate stage. And then, on Saturday night in New Hampshire, Trump insinuated that Clinton might have been on drugs before their second debate and that both candidates should be drug-tested before the final debate this Wednesday in Las Vegas.
What you will notice about all of those attacks, explanations, denials and, well, just talking is that they lack any sort of coherent or cohesive message. Trump insists that the media should focus on the WikiLeaks hack of the emails of top Clinton advisers, but he seems incapable of doing so himself for more than 30 seconds.
This is end-stage Trumpism. He has proclaimed that the “shackles” holding him back earlier in the campaign are now off. Those shackles, of course, were the attempts by political professionals to transform the rebellion he led during the Republican primary fight into something resembling an actual campaign.
That hope – if ever it truly existed – is gone forever. It appears as though Trump’s minders have effectively given up, allowing the candidate to pursue his own score-settling and airing of grievances in these final weeks of the campaign. Taking that road may bring some satisfaction to Trump. But it has the potential to do catastrophic damage to the party he ostensibly leads as the GOP tries to hold its Senate and House majorities amid declining enthusiasm within its own ranks for its presidential nominee.
To care about that effect would mean that Trump was running a real campaign that grasped the idea that it’s about more than just the whims of a single candidate. He simply is not doing that.