Vulgarian (vul-gar-i-an). Noun. 1. an unrefined person, especially one with newly acquired power or wealth. 2: a vulgar person.
There were times in last Thursday’s debate in Texas that Donald Trump not only entertained me (as he often does) but had me cheering. The best came when Wolf Blitzer thought he had Trump cornered as he read statements from Mexican senior officials claiming there was no way they would pay for a wall at the border. The most pointed was Vicente Fox, who refused to ever pay for a “f — king wall.” Trump didn’t miss a beat, looking at Blitzer and snapping that the former Mexican president had just added 10-feet to the wall with that comment.
It was Trump at his best. I laughed out loud.
Unfortunately, Trump at his worst emerges more often, including mere minutes later looking left and crudely denouncing Ted Cruz as a “liar” and then pivoting right and crassly ripping Marco Rubio as a “choker,” a theme that Trump excitedly continued to CNN’s Chris Cuomo after the debate and all next day. Trump’s animated mocking of Rubio was childish — playground bully stuff totally unbecoming of a president. I half-expected Trump to grab his throat pretending to gag at Rubio, just as I half-expected him to start shouting “liar, liar pants on fire!” at Cruz. The man is a spectacle.
Sadly, Donald Trump is behaving this way toward two promising conservative Republican superstars, both legitimate presidential contenders. Cruz has a 100% lifetime conservative ranking from the American Conservative Union, and Rubio has a 98%. In Rubio in particular, conservatives may never again in their lifetimes get someone with such a high conservative ranking so broadly appealing to the wider electorate (the last was Reagan). And Trump, scorched-earther extraordinaire, is gleefully doing his damnedest to destroy the young conservative.
But the long-term political damage that Donald Trump is potentially unleashing is considerably worse. In the Real Clear Politics polling average, Rubio and Cruz consistently beat Hillary Clinton in a general election, whereas Trump consistently loses to her. Trump’s stunningly huge unlikability among the wider public is the highest in the history of Gallup’s polling, whereas Cruz’s is much better and Rubio’s is remarkably positive — for now, at least. By the time the Donald is done doing them in, it might not be.
A recent NBC-Wall Street Journal survey shows that Republicans nationwide prefer Rubio over Trump by a margin of 57-41%. The same poll has them preferring Cruz over Trump by 56-40%. So, how does Trump lead them both in the primary? The answer is easy, it’s Math 101: Rubio and Cruz and the too-many-other Republicans in the race split the non-Trump vote. It’s the perfect storm for a veritable political-psychological tsunami like Donald Trump.
The whole thing is depressing. Consider, Rubio and Cruz, the two genuine conservative front-runners, are the hardworking sons of extraordinary immigrants from Cuba. They are quintessential American success stories. They are both solid Christian family men. And into the race comes a sudden self-proclaimed born-again conservative who laughs at them and eviscerates them, and is rewarded for it. It’s hard to watch.
All of which brings me back to Trump’s mastery of an altogether new campaign tactic of non-stop rapacious ridicule of opponents within one’s own party. The New Jersey casino founder brashly accused Ted Cruz of everything from being a closet Canadian citizen to cheating when the Donald lost Iowa. Schoolboy-like, Trump threatened lawsuits. Of late, he jumps in the sandbox and taunts Marco Rubio: “choker, choker!”
Can you imagine Ronald Reagan doing this? Reagan’s “11th commandment” was never to speak ill of another Republican. Donald Trump’s commandment is to speak ill of every Republican.
Do Republicans want this as the party’s new face and standard-bearer? Apparently those on the Trump side do. Many of them even assume the insult-king’s persona, dealing with dissenters with similar levels of obnoxiousness, blow-torching Republicans in the way of their Donald.
I was in the car on Friday a little 5:00 p.m. when I tuned in to an exchange on Sean Hannity’s radio show. The voice I heard was a Trump campaign guy, Michael Cohen, his right-hand man, described as Trump’s “wingman.” He was aggressive, insulting, rude. I winced as I listened — as I did when catching another Trump spokesman on Fox that evening.
“Nobody wants them,” sneered Cohen, speaking of Cruz and Rubio. The Trump spokesman saved his nastier barbs for Rubio, clearly fuming at the Florida senator for having the audacity to go after his boss in Houston. “Marco Rubio challenging Donald Trump is like Bambi fighting Godzilla,” surmised Cohen. “Marco is trying to be a man [emphasis original]…. The American people look at Marco Rubio and they see nothing. Why? Because he’s done nothing…. Marco Rubio has no idea what he’s talking about at all…. Everything he was saying … is against the will of the voters.” Rubio exuded “the stink of desperation.”
Scorched earth. Slash and burn. Leave nothing standing.
If such assaults from Trump’s spokesman sound like something a liberal Democrat might say about a conservative, well, that’s because it is: Trump’s wingman is a lifetime Democrat who voted for Obama.
But what really floored me about the Trump spokesman was his flabbergasting claim that what we had witnessed from Trump on that stage in Houston had been magnificently “presidential.” “Trump looked to me, and to many people I spoke to,” insisted Cohen, “he looked extremely presidential.”
Really? Again, can you imagine a Ronald Reagan acting like that, glancing to his right and slamming one fellow Republican as a choker and then swiveling to his left and shredding the other as a liar? Could you imagine this behavior from other presidents? Eisenhower? Coolidge? Lincoln? Washington?
If uncorked mockery is the new “presidential,” then America truly is toast. The Democratic Party, culturally, is already in the sewer. Can we at least salvage some semblance of moral comportment from our Republican leaders?
These, ladies and gentlemen, are the vulgarians at the gate of the GOP, ready to invade and take down the party.
Please, let the left be the bullies. It comes more naturally to the left. It’s “progressives” who are picketing and shutting down and suing and jailing and ruining the lives of bakers and photographers and florists who disagree with their fundamentally transforming human nature. They relish forcing celibate nuns to fork over money for abortion drugs. The left is doing a bang-up job of being bullies. And now we’re going to nominate a Republican for president who fits the template better than anyone ever nominated by either party?
Sure, the Trump swagger and panache is sometimes appealing, as is the delicious political incorrectness. Confidence indeed is a sign of leadership, but petulance, imprudence, lack of control, lack of charity, and a flair for childish name-calling is not.
And so, the Donald holds forth: Ted Cruz, a liar. George W. Bush, another liar. Jeb Bush, a joke. Mitt Romney, dumb, stupid, moron, loser. Marco Rubio, a sweating choke artist. Carly Fiorina, a woman with an ugly face. Megyn Kelly: a bimbo with “blood coming out of her eyes.”
Liars, losers, morons. All of them.
“Look at that face!” yapped Trump of Carly Fiorina. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that the face of our next president?”
Better question: Look at Trump’s mouth. Can you imagine that the mouth of our next president?
Alas, most amazing is how the penchant for insult doesn’t hurt Trump among his devotees. It’s working handily for him in blowing up the Republican primary, where he only needs one-third of votes to run the table in a race that has ranged from five candidates to 17.
And yet, here’s something that should matter to Trump’s supporters: This Trumpian tactic will not work one-on-one against Hillary Clinton. Two-thirds of the public detests this behavior (and detests Trump), and that brings me to this final miserable observation:
My bet is that Donald Trump, after eviscerating and mocking and humiliating the likes of solid conservatives like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and ruining their chances in 2016, perhaps even longer, would cool these antics if he gets on stage with Hillary. I doubt he will screech and call her a liar and choker and loser and moron and say she’s ugly. He knows that will not work in a general election where the one-third of Trump supporters who tolerate this kind of behavior are not enough to win in November.
What that means, sadly, is that Donald Trump is employing this shrillness probably only against conservative Republicans in a crucial election year that had once been conservative Republicans’ for the taking. The year 2016 was our year. It has been there, ripe for the picking. Two of our three front-runners beat Hillary, according to the polls, and Trump is not one of them. He has used the vulgarian approach to take down the two conservatives.
I bet that a Trump debating Hillary would suddenly emerge the anti-Trump, behaving like a civilized gentleman. He might well morph into a model of refinement, practically offering to fetch tea for the gentlelady of Benghazi. We may well wonder if the Donald was a Democratic Party plant after we watch his unusual class and kindness to Hillary.
In the end, Donald Trump’s antics in the GOP primary may ultimately succeed only in electing Hillary Clinton. And that will be the most vulgar thing of all.