It’s quite simple, wrote Byron York last night, attempting to solve the mystery of why Trump would go after a popular Republican governor in her home state. (Even Trump crony Newt Gingrich was baffled by it.) Martinez was critical of Trump, York reasoned, so Trump’s being critical of Martinez. Step out of line against the nominee and he’s apt to whack you pour encourager les autres. Right, but where does that get you? It’s not going to stop Martinez, who’s term-limited and has nothing to fear. If anything, it might antagonize her and her allies to attack harder. Meanwhile, it’s bizarre to have the party’s nominee screeching about unity on the one hand while using his rallies to settle grudges with Republican critics on the other. He hit Ted Cruz a few days ago seemingly just for the fun of it, even though Cruz hasn’t said anything more critical of Trump since leaving the race than that he’s reserving judgment on whether to support him for now.
If you’re a Republican voter who’s on the fence about whether to back Trump because you’re worried that he won’t be a loyal GOPer once elected, watching him swing at Martinez and Cruz et al. is a reminder that, yeah, you should be worried. It’s no coincidence that he’s apt to use the word “they” instead of “we” when referring to the Republican Party. And the punchline is, Trump doesn’t need to do any of this to get what he wants politically. Republican pols already understand that they risk losing Trump supporters in their own elections this fall if they speak out against him. Trump doesn’t have to remind them by making an example of Martinez. On the contrary, politely declining to engage would signal to them that he’s capable of governing like a more traditional politician, which would put them more at ease in supporting him. And as for Martinez herself, a charm offensive would probably accomplish his goal of getting her to back off more effectively than attacking her would. If he was complimentary of her, she’d look small by continuing to criticize him and would validate the complaint that it’s Trump’s critics, not Trump himself, who are the biggest obstacle to unity.
To Trump, there was something more important at work. “[Martinez] continues to attack him publicly and privately,” one person in TrumpWorld told me recently. Trump has made a principle of hitting back harder than he is hit. And he has been so effective that many Republicans, elected and not, have decided the smart thing is to refrain from taking on Trump, even if they oppose him…
Trump confirmed as much at his news conference Tuesday. Asked why he went after Martinez, Trump said, “She was not nice. And I was fine — just a little bit of a jab. But she wasn’t nice, and you think I’m going to change? I’m not changing, including with her.”
Trump continued: “If I have a Republican that’s not on my side, why should I be particularly nice to that person? I’m not going to go after her like I would Hillary or Crazy Bernie, but you know what? Why should I be nice to that person? If I have a person that’s not going to support me, I have no obligation. Politically, I may be right, I may be wrong, but that’s who I am. I’m a very honest person. If somebody is going to say a little bit negative or a lot negative about me, and if they happen to be a Republican, I may choose to hit them back. Not always, but I may choose to hit them back.”
Why not just ignore her? I follow political news for a living and I’d missed nearly all of Martinez’s Trump criticisms — until he went after her and made it a thing. There are no more than a handful of Republicans in the United States with a national media profile large enough to create major headlines simply by attacking him. George W. Bush and Mitt Romney are two, but they’re not well-liked by the general electorate and are disdained even by swaths of the GOP. There may be no one on the right with enough media juice to really damage Trump in a war of words, in which case there’s nothing to be gained by him in engaging them. Just stick to Hillary. That’s the best medicine to encourage party healing in the end. Instead, the question must be asked: Is this guy actually going to attack fellow Republicans from the podium at the convention? Shots at Bush and Romney are a fait accompli but at least there’s an electoral logic to those. I’m talking about attacks on rank-and-file GOPers who’ll end up skipping the convention because they don’t support him. Strategically it’d make no sense, but I’m not so sure this is about strategy anymore. Remember, his favorite Bible verse is “an eye for an eye.” This is just who he is.
By the way, his comments about Martinez today came at the same presser in which he announced that his fundraiser for vets this spring raised $5.6 million. One million of that was his own money, which he finally ponied up after pledging to do so back in January once a WaPo came sniffing around asking him whatever happened to that donation. Trump didn’t like that and went after the press again today for paying so much attention to how and whether the money had been disbursed. Key quote:
“I wanted to keep it private, because I don’t think it’s anybody’s business if I want to send money to the vets.”
He made a big show of hosting the fundraiser, which was carried live on CNN, back in January as a pretext for skipping the Fox News debate with Megyn Kelly. Now his charitable activities are nobody’s business. W-w-w-what?
Here he is answering a question from our very capable media about whether the zookeepers should have shot that gorilla because this is what politics in America is now, apparently. Exit question: Does Trump want to see congressional Republicans who’ve refused to endorse him defeated this fall? That’s the only inference I can draw from his willingness to attack rank-and-file GOP pols at rallies. Earning Trump’s wrath publicly means some of his supporters are less likely to vote for you down-ballot, which means the chance of a Democratic upset rises. Does Trump want to see unfaithful Republicans — who are still more likely to vote for his agenda in Congress than lefties are — punished by losing? If not, why doesn’t he shut up and lay off of them for his own sake?