Like most Americans watching the endless reality TV presidential campaign of Donald Trump, I’ve discovered the secret to Trump’s success on the campaign stump. It has nothing to do at all with sterling qualifications, superior grasp of national security issues or stunning displays of logic. If he has those things, he’s chosen not to showcase them.
Rather, it has to do with Trump’s attacks on his opponents’ unworthiness as human beings. Trump undermines public faith in his opponents’ worth. He is a master of using schoolyard taunts to convince the public that his able opponents are no-accounts.
That’s all he has. Trump has but a single arrow in his quiver. So far, he hasn’t needed more. Convincing voters that every single opponent is no good is working for him. The question is: Will it keep on working?
You’ve noticed it, haven’t you?
For instance, when Trump learned from Fox News host Sean Hannity that The Washington Post has 20 reporters checking his background, he attacked the Post’s owner, Jeff Bezos, a Fortune 500 businessman, builder of Amazon.com and space pioneer, as seeking to avoid taxes.
Bezos “is using The Washington Post for power so that the politicians in Washington don’t tax Amazon like they should be taxed,” Trump shot back.
But Amazon doesn’t own the Post, and in any case the company is on record as favoring online taxes, if only because they would tend to deter competitors.
As he does every time, Trump worked to shift the public’s attention. He took the focus away from the newspaper that uncovered Watergate, and put it on Bezos. The media generally just reported Trump’s counter-charge, minus the truth.
Trump did the same thing after it came out that he had not paid veterans’ charities money he owed them nearly six months after holding the fundraising event.
That’s a valid point. Did Trump really raise $6 million? If he did, why was it taking so long to write the checks? Does he keep his promises? The Associated Press, in a herculean effort of digging, discovered Trump sent a dozen checks out on May 24, the same day that the Post interviewed Trump on the subject.
“Most of the money went out quite a while ago,” Trump perjured himself at the news conference. Instead, checks went out when the Post nailed Trump on it.
He then spent the bulk of his press conference attacking the media, calling one reporter, “sleazy,” and political reporters in general “dishonest.” Trump discredits the free press for even daring to question him.
Trump rubs out his opponents one by one as lowlifes, despite often astounding accomplishments on their parts. Yet this is deadly poison for democracy and for the public accountability of a man who wants his finger on the nuclear button.
Speaking of that, when he learned Hillary Clinton was to make a major speech about his ignorance of national security issues, Trump preemptively attacked her. He mocked her 2008 commercial about a 3 a.m. phone call, saying she slept through the call. The reality is that Clinton, as secretary of state, got more than her share of urgent, national security phone calls — and acted on them.
“She lies,” Trump said. That’s Trump’s stock defense when the truth catches up to him — to call the messenger a liar or disgusting. Trump attempts to turn attention away from his being untrustworthy by saying that Clinton is the one who is lying.
A fair amount of Trump’s business success comes from leasing his brand name. But his own product, Trump University, appears to be a failure. Lawsuits were filed against Trump for defrauding students, some of whom drained retirement accounts to pay fees close to $35,000. CBS reported that one sales technique (which Trump approved) was specifically aimed at parents who didn’t have enough money to feed their children.
We learned these things because a federal judge unsealed records in the case. The fraud charges, incidentally, were brought three years ago by the attorney general for New York, long before Trump announced his campaign for president.
So what did Trump do? He pulled out his poison arrow and aimed it at a judge who has taken on dangerous Mexican drug lords and who ordered the court’s records on Trump University released for public scrutiny.
“The judge has been very unfair. He’s not done a good job. He’s very unfair,” Trump said with his index finger raised, as it always is when attacking. In another conference, Trump went on for 12 minutes, mentioning that the white Hispanic judge, who was born in Indiana, “is Mexican,” and “a hater.”
Now Trump attacks an independent judiciary, attempting to dismantle its effectiveness, a bulwark of our form of government, for his personal court gain. Attacking the attacker, avoiding accountability and slip-sliding past answering probing questions are Trump’s only stock in trade.
Smearing, assailing, denigrating or simply assassinating his opponents’ honesty or looks or gender, or height or ethnicity — this alone has paved Trump’s path to the GOP nomination. But is it the path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.