“A striking display of self-sabotage,” the Times writes of Trump’s rally in Cincinnati last night, at which he ranted about the Star of David kerfuffle from this weekend and his views on Saddam the Terrorist-Killer. Here’s a reality check: Hardly anyone besides political junkies has spent more than 20 seconds thinking about the imagery in Trump’s tweet, assuming they’ve heard about it at all, and lots of Americans doubtless agree that the Middle East would be better off with strongmen in charge in the name of suppressing Islamists. (That’s the story of the Egyptian revolution and counterrevolution, right?) Besides, Trump seems to have already reached his likely floor in national polling of 37-40 percent of the vote, the occasional freaky outlier from Reuters aside. There’s nowhere to go but up.
What was amazing to me about last night’s rally was how devoted to “fan service” this guy still seems to be despite the fact that we’re two months into the general election campaign and he’s trailing consistently. If ever there was a candidate who could afford to stop titillating his hardcore supporters by ranting about how unfair the media is and how cool it was that Saddam got to kill bad guys without trials and due process, it’s Trump. His cult of personality is locked in. Now’s the time to pander to swing voters by leaving his “politically incorrect” material aside and hammering Clinton steadily on her comprehensive rigging of “the system,” from free trade to her above-the-law status courtesy of her cronies in the DOJ. Instead he’s screwing around with this nonsense at his rallies, knowing full well that the media will pick it up and run with it as an excuse to change the subject from the FBI’s shady decision not to charge Clinton. It’s inexplicable that he’d forfeit an easy opportunity to keep the heat on her and win over some undecideds. Some anti-Trumpers on social media retreated into their favorite conspiracy theory, that Trump’s actively trying to lose, to explain why he’d do it but I think it’s more a product of his supreme hubristic confidence in his rhetorical abilities. He’s gotten this far ranting about whatever comes into his head at rallies. Why change now?
Then, after the rally, just to make sure the media would keep playing with the shiny object he’d handed them this weekend, he tweeted this:
Well, unlike Trump’s Hillary image, the star on the Disney book probably didn’t come from an alt-righter and end up being circulated on white-supremacist message boards before Trump’s guys found it. (In fact, the photo of the Disney book in Trump’s tweet last night seems to have also come from an alt-righter.) And unlike Trump, Disney isn’t known for having an ardent white-nationalist fan base whose leading lights will tell you that, why, yes, that star in the Hillary image surely is a nod at Jewish corruption. Trump’s Disney comparison works only if you strip away every bit of relevant context. But that’s not the point here. The point, again, is why is he still talking about this? Why give the media any reason to turn the spotlight back from Clinton and her friend Loretta Lynch to Trump?
Maybe he’s just a guy who needs to be in the spotlight, even when it’s to his own disadvantage. He always has been, no? In lieu of an exit question, a choice quote from a Democratic strategist: “If she was running against [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich or [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio, she’d be in real trouble and we’d be talking about finding another candidate before the [Democratic National Convention].” And another from a Clinton aide: “Her opponent is going to help her just by being who he is.”