Donald Trump knows how to stir things up -- mostly by churning embers until they produce a giant smoke screen. I've noticed (as you likely have) that when Trump gets into trouble, he lashes out with a series of accusations that obscure the activity that got him there.
Trump enveloped fraud charges by Trump University students within a dark cloud of his own complaints, primarily that the U.S.-born judge in the case couldn't be fair because his parents are Hispanic. Within hours no one was talking about fraud.
Next came the Orlando tragedy, with 49 people dead in the largest mass killing in recent U.S. history. But instead of expressing shock at the horror of the event, or concern for the survivors, Trump sent out disgraceful self-congratulatory tweets.
"Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism," Trump tweeted while victims were still in the nightclub. "I don't want congrats, I want toughness (and) vigilance."
Trump later claimed he had gotten "tens of thousands of tweets and calls and letters of congratulations," from people upon their learning of the massacre. Now, it may seem odd to you that any person's first response to a horrific mass killing would be to fire off a congratulatory message to a politician. Well, it was odd. NBC News combed Trump's Twitter account and found four celebratory tweets at Trump, not thousands.
Lone wolf terror shootings have been predicted by everyone from former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney to President Barack Obama and our CIA and Homeland Security chiefs, and no one sent them flattering tweets in the wake of violence.
That Trump's first reaction was to promote himself reveals a dreadful personal callousness that paralleled the shooter's stoniness while he talked to police, walking among the bodies, caring only about getting his message out.
Nor does Trump confine his congratulatory tweets to homebred terrorist attacks. When an Amtrak train derailed on May 12, 2015, his description of the carnage was stone-cold clinical, followed by self-puffery: "Amtrak crash near Philadelphia, train derails -- many hurt, some badly. Our country has horrible infrastructure problems."
As the 144 injured passengers were being pried from the wreckage, Trump followed up nine minutes later with, "The only one who can fix the infrastructure of our country is me -- roads, bridges, airports. I know how to build, politicians only talk!"
Trump's lack of feeling for Orlando victims and relatives -- coupled with his penchant to capitalize politically on a mass killing, even as the youths were being operated on -- brought him an avalanche of criticism. One headline said Trump had "miserably failed his first leadership test. He plunged in the polls, and his negative ratings soared to 70 percent.
As he has done repeatedly when in trouble, Trump's response was to send up multiple smoke screens. He first faulted Obama for not using "radical Islam," a phrase which ISIS likes. This broad-brush term fits ISIS' theme that the U.S. opposes the Muslim faith in general, even with adherents like the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison and many American Muslims in our armed forces.
When that flopped, Trump called for the president to resign. More backlash. Three days after his infamous Orlando tweets, Trump was still dodging criticism. Another smoke screen was in order.
Trump next called for a ban on all Muslim immigrants. But our country was initially settled by immigrants fleeing religious persecution, so he met with a round of stiff criticism from Republican leaders.
So he tried another smoke screen.
On the 241st birthday of the U.S. Army, Trump next accused American soldiers in Iraq of stealing money that they were supposed to distribute. "I want to know who were the soldiers that had that job, because I think they're living very well right now, whoever they may be." A Trump aide walked this one back, claiming Trump meant to say Iraqi soldiers. But Iraqi soldiers had no U.S. money to distribute.
When all these smoke screens dissipated, Trump turned to wacky conspiracy theories. He cited a "secret" memo that purportedly proved Obama was supporting al-Qaeda. Trouble is, the memo wasn't secret. It was an intelligence evaluation citing the difficulty in vetting fighters in Syria to make certain they weren't with al-Qaeda.
Trump's "proof" was an article published by Breitbart, a discredited and disgraced right-wing news agency. In 2010, Andrew Breitbart selectively edited an NAACP officer's video talk to make it appear she turned down a white farmer for a loan. But a longer version proved she was talking about how she approved the loan.
Trump's skill in getting media coverage is documented in his book "The Art of the Deal," where he flatly states that saying outrageous things gets publicity. Yep, and cable media and others enjoy promoting Trump's outrageous commentary.
Trump has cultivated a reputation for being straight-forward because he says ungodly things. He is not, however, giving words to his candid thoughts. His outrageousness is calculated, used to manipulate the media into shifting the spotlight, especially when he's in deep trouble.
Here's what we all can predict -- more of this outrageous bad behavior.
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.