Alternate headline: “Vote racism in 2016, urges Ryan.” I think we’re about to move to Phase Two of Trump versus the judge. Phase One was Trump ripping on Curiel — voluntarily, as Byron York correctly notes. Trump’s been spinning lately that he has no choice but to talk about the Trump University case because reporters keep asking him about it, but that omits the inconvenient fact that he himself introduced the subject at a rally in San Diego, where the trial’s being held, 10 days ago. He couldn’t resist taking a shot at an enemy on his home turf (just like he couldn’t resist jabbing at Susana Martinez when he was in New Mexico) and now the media won’t leave him alone about it. York marvels:
In a speech that went a little less than an hour, Trump spent more than ten minutes talking about Trump University. Ten minutes is a lot of time. It was far more, for example, than Trump spent talking about jobs — one week before a terrible jobs report raised serious questions about the recovery. Ten minutes was more than Trump spent talking about illegal immigration, his signature issue. Or veterans, a recent favorite. Or even, astonishingly, the damning State Department report on Hillary Clinton’s email scandal…
Put aside questions of race or ethnicity. Trump’s judgment — bringing up his own scandal and giving himself the opportunity to make things infinitely worse — left Republican political professionals with mouths agape. Who does such things?
“It’s purely emotional,” said Strategist One, formerly of a rival campaign. “It makes zero sense.”
Does it? More on that in a minute. As I say, Trump attacking the judge was Phase One. Now we’re headed for Phase Two, in which he turns on the various Republican pols and media figures he’s been trying to make nice with lately because they won’t follow orders and side with him in his criticism of Curiel. His new pal Megyn Kelly went after him last night for the third time in a week over this; Trump’s done his best to resist restarting his attacks on her but that won’t last much longer. Now here comes Paul Ryan, who endorsed him days ago, dismissing his criticism of the judge as “textbook” racist when Trump has been instructing his surrogates to accuse his antagonists of racism instead. (Trump fan Jeffrey Lord got the memo from the boss and did just that on CNN this morning.) How can Trump afford to let a shot like that from Ryan slide without comment?
Back to what one of York’s sources said about the judge attacks making zero sense, though. Is that true? It makes zero sense politically, but Trump never claimed that politics was his top priority, even as the Republican nominee. I think Noah Millman has it exactly right:
Trump is ranting about Curiel’s bias not because doing so is part of any kind of rational political strategy, but because he is going to lose the case. And if he loses, it must be somebody else’s fault. He’s not just talking about himself instead of something that actually matters to voters. He’s talking to himself, telling himself a story of how big a winner he is, no matter how often he loses. And he’s doing it in front of the entire country.
In a very basic sense, this is the emotional connection that Trump forged from the beginning of his campaign. Trump sees himself as a winner whose occasional setbacks are the result of other people’s unfairness or incompetence. He has connected with a slice of the voting public that sees America’s problems in similar terms: the fault of corrupt, incompetent, and disloyal elites…
Trump isn’t interested in getting the best result for the party. He’s got a whole host of strategies for convincing himself that he’s a winner even when he loses, because the loss is always somebody else’s fault. And he’s got a whole host of strategies for making sure that, monetarily and psychically speaking, the bulk of his losses hits somebody else’s balance sheet rather than his own. Historically, those have been his priorities, and from the look of things, they still are.
This isn’t politics, it’s psychodrama. Trump is so invested in his image as the consummate winner, and not just a winner in the aggregate but a winner in each individual conflict with others, that he can’t resist pre-spinning the Trump U case even though it’s damaging his chances to become president of the United States. That being so, Millman argues, it’s a cinch that if he ends up far down in the polls late in the fall, he’ll shift from attacking Hillary in his rallies to pre-spinning his defeat by attacking various scapegoats, many from his own side — the RNC, Ryan, Ted Cruz, anyone and everyone whose lack of total enthusiastic commitment can be exploited to shift blame for defeat onto others. I made the same point last week. It’s inconceivable in his own mind that he’d lose a fair fight; if he goes down, it can only be because he was stabbed in the back. Temperamentally, he’s the perfect nationalist.
Ryan said this, by the way, at an event he’d organized to promote his anti-poverty agenda. This was the first topic the media raised with him in the Q&A. Even on a day when he’s trying to counterprogram Trump by highlighting the House GOP’s policy platform, he can’t get away from it. Enjoy the next five months, Paul. He’s not the only Republican leader damning Trump today either: Via BuzzFeed, listen below and you’ll find Mitch McConnell flatly admitting in an interview this morning that this is a lesser-of-two-evils election(!). Imagine that. The Republican Speaker of the House candidly dismisses something the nominee’s said as “racist” within a few hours of the Republican Senate majority leader acknowledging that there’s little reason to vote for the nominee apart from the Democrat being worse. This is where we all thought the election would wind up when it first got rolling last year, right?