This past Good Friday was probably the most politically unholy one I’ve experienced in my lifetime observing presidential politics. Donald Trump uncorked a childish, unhinged shot at Ted Cruz’s wife that should give even his unflinchingly obedient supporters pause.
It all began earlier in the week. A super PAC ad by Liz Mair’s group Make America Awesome was released on the occasion of the Utah vote. “MEET MELANIA TRUMP,” announced the ad, which sported a revealing photo of an unclothed Melania Trump liberally exposing herself in GQ magazine. The ad taunted: “YOUR NEXT FIRST LADY.”
In response, Donald Trump was incensed, which actually surprised me. I figured he would brag. This man has long boasted about the women he has taken to bed, married and unmarried. The casino mogul and strip-club owner has never been reticent in expressing his explicit admiration of women’s body parts. I thought he might have Tweeted in triumphant celebration that Melania is, yes, all his.
But he didn’t. Bear in mind, after all, that Donald Trump has an almost extra-sensory sensitivity for criticism. No one criticizes Donald Trump. I have never seen anyone in politics less capable of accepting dissent or hard questions. The man goes ballistic — which, needless to say, is obviously not a reassuring trait for someone endeavoring to be the next leader of the free world.
And so, Trump blamed the super PAC ad squarely on Ted Cruz, and did so from his Twitter arsenal with his usual flair for understatement: “Lyin’ Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad,” barked Trump. “Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!”
Whoa. This was shocking enough, but as we’ve learned by now, the mere shocking is never enough with Donald Trump. Here again, his rage had just begun. When Trump gets mad, he gets more than even, he becomes vindictive, regardless of the fact — as Liz Mair and everyone else repeatedly noted — that Ted Cruz had nothing to do with the ad.
And so, kicking off Holy Thursday and the Easter Triduum, Trump, five minutes before midnight on Good Friday eve, let launch an atrocious piece of work totally unbecoming of anyone who should be seriously considered for the presidency. In a breathtaking display, Trump himself — not a rogue staffer or some low-level communications goon or intern whose finger got too close to the button — mounted his Twitter account yet again. This time, his salvo was off-the-scales over-the-top. He smoked off an image, a side-by-side comparison of two photos, an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz juxtaposed against the super-modelish Melania. The caption mocked: “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Try to comprehend the sheer political stupidity of this move. Donald Trump’s likability numbers with women are abysmal, an unprecedented record-low for a Republican, even as he and his supporters assure us that women (just like Latinos) are going to swarm to him in hordes come November. Politics aside, however, consider Trump’s action from a psychological aspect. And as you do, I direct my concerns specifically at Trump’s dedicated acolytes — not the 60%-plus of Americans who already find him repulsive and unfit for office.
And so, people reading right now who support Trump, please stop and think about this. Don’t just shrug it off. This technically small thing — a one-line Tweet — strikes me as actually quite significant. What Trump did here is absolutely not normal behavior, especially for someone who’s the front-runner for the Republican Party nomination. In years past, and still this year with any other Republican candidate, no presidential aspirant would have gotten away with even one disturbing display like this. How does a Trump supporter merely sniff at this and move on? More so, how does one do so when there are other legitimate Republicans in the race? If you’re a dye-in-the-wool conservative, how do you not turn to Ted Cruz in a moment like this?
Is it once again the immigration thing? Is that “super” and “amazing” wall that a President Trump would build the alpha and omega? Are all sins washed clean at the base of a “fabulous” border wall erected by the Donald?
It must be the same mental make-up that enables Trump boosters to watch all the Republican debates, where Trump was a veritable policy midget compared to the obviously smarter Cruz and Rubio (granted, Kasich wasn’t much better, and is less articulate) and still walks away from their TV sets thinking that Trump won the debate and is their guy in 2016?
To repeat: This latest Trump outburst — once again with a woman’s looks the target of his ridicule — is bizarre behavior. How do my fellow conservatives waltz past it? I used to think our side was so much more rational than the left. It is Democrats who’ve always blindly followed their front-runner, not Republicans.
So, that’s a psychological assessment, but it’s at the heart of my deep confusion and concern not so much with Trump (he is what he is) but his apologists on my side of the aisle. Are you guys really that mad as hell? And even if you’re that angry, you still need not support Trump over Cruz, let alone the other 16 who had started the GOP presidential field last year.
More bluntly, are you okay with someone of this temperament and maturity making the vital judgments required to be president of the United States? If you had a pastor who behaved this, you’d leave his church. If you had an employee who sent out Tweets like this, you’d fire him. If your kid had a teacher like this, you’d be at the next school board meeting asking why he hasn’t been suspended. If your little town mayor was caught doing something like this, he would be so embarrassed he wouldn’t dare go to the grocery store.
But you’ll accept this in your president, even as you still have viable alternatives?
This is the work of a crude and vulgar person; it is unstable behavior for any adult. It is, again, needless to say, an exceptionally poor character trait for a commander-in-chief.
So, that was it — nothing short of a flagrant attack on Heidi Cruz’s face, not unlike the Donald’s digs ad Carly Fiorina’s face. (“Look at the face!” yapped Trump in reference to Fiorina. “Can you imagine that the face of our next president?”) He is good at this sort of thing.
Cruz, of course, had no recourse but to respond. He charitably said, “Donald, real men don’t attack women. Your wife is lovely, and Heidi is the love of my life.” He later got angrier: “Donald, you’re a sniveling coward.” He told the reality-TV-star-turned-“conservative” to “leave Heidi the hell alone.”
I would caution Cruz to be very careful here. Any response to Trump is seen by Trump as utterly unjust, meriting a yet higher escalation in nastiness, and Trump’s likewise ultra-sensitive defenders react the same way, assuming their Donald’s persona against his unfair “attackers.” Cruz should take a cue from Marco Rubio: Never crawl into the sewer with Donald Trump, because no one can sling it like the Donald. And when he lashes out, the wreckage affects everyone but himself — or, that is, everyone but his hardcore group of unflagging supporters.
But to return to the timeline, this was merely the kick-off to the Good Friday Romp. Things got much worse.
I awoke Good Friday morning not only to the deranged Tweet from Trump, but to news of a National Enquirer piece claiming that “Lyin’ Ted” has had no less than five extramarital affairs, apparently making the Donald either blush or smile.
The Enquirer story seems to have gone to press a day or two earlier, but it hit on Good Friday morning, quickly making the headlines and forcing Cruz to denounce it that day as “garbage.” By noon on Good Friday, as Christians prepared for the customary three hours of solemnity, Rush Limbaugh opened his show with the story, and handled it with his usual disappointing moral equivalency on the Donald question. It was the main story on conservative talk-radio and cable news outlets the remainder of the holy day.
Recall that two days prior, Trump had promised to “spill the beans” on Heidi. Here, his friends at the Enquirer (Trump is chummy with the editor, David Pecker, who he has praised mightily), which had just openly endorsed Trump for president, were spilling some beans of some sort on Heidi’s husband, who we’ve always understood as nothing but a solid family man who doesn’t cheat on his wife.
I immediately heard from Trump supporters on the Enquirer story, given that I had posted a piece on Trump and Melania and Cruz earlier in the day. It was shocking to see these Trump “conservatives” reflexively shout for the crucifixion of Ted Cruz.
I watched weeks ago how the Trump “conservatives” turned on and torched Marco Rubio when he was in the way of their Donald. They viewed “Choking Marco” as nothing short of cretin, an irredeemable communist. And now, amazingly, Ted Cruz has morphed into a moral reprobate to the Trump fans, and deemed no longer even a real conservative — unlike Trump, the true conservative. They are now coming for Cruz with lanterns and torches.
What a Judas-like betrayer Ted Cruz has become!
And so, here we are, the day after Easter 2016. Where stands the conservative field that once was so promising to take back the White House in 2016? The answer is clear: It is badly wounded, limping, barely breathing. Donald Trump is laying waste to the rising stars of the conservative movement. He took down “Choking Marco,” and now he’s destroying “Lyin’ Ted,” so much so that even people on the right who are pro-Trump now vilify these two men. On his path to the presidency, the Donald is weaving a path of vast destruction. And as every poll undeniably has shown month after month after month, it will almost certainly end in a Hillary Clinton victory in November against — ironically — the only Republican who clearly loses to her (and by landslide margins) in one-on-one match-ups: Donald Trump.
Trump remains the only Republican candidate who not only loses in every poll against Hillary but by double digits (this is not true of Cruz, Kasich, and wasn’t of Rubio either). Amazingly, Trump even loses to socialist Bernie Sanders by an even higher double-digit margin (17 points). And worse, he takes down our best and brightest in the conservative movement who had once ensured 2016 as our year for the White House. The year of hope for Republicans is careening into disaster.