Even though his sudden uptick in the polls had me a little queasy, there was something inherently valuable about a Donald Trump candidacy: he made all of the other fourteen (fifteen?) candidates look sane and normal by comparison. I can’t say with any honesty, like Jeffery Lord, that Trump was “speaking truth to power” with his bizarre, rambling speeches, but I can say that, for a campaign that has now started almost two years out, he’s a brief, if challenging bit of entertainment.
This weekend, though, he went off the proverbial “deep end,” wasting any legitimacy his campaign had on a quip about, of all people, John McCain.
Donald J. Trump has made his name in politics with provocative statements, but it was not until Saturday, after the flamboyant businessman turned presidential candidate belittled Senator John McCain’s war record, that many Republicans concluded that silence or equivocation about Mr. Trump’s incendiary rhetoric was inadequate.
Mr. Trump upended a Republican presidential forum here, and the race more broadly, by saying of the Arizona senator and former prisoner of war: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
I didn’t initially catch the quip, honestly. In a long speech it was barely a blip on the radar, but it was immediately seized upon by media across the board. I can’t argue that they’re wrong, either. I don’t like John McCain. I don’t agree with him on basically anything. But it wasn’t like John McCain spent most of his time in Vietnam hanging out with Hanoi Jane in a Holiday Inn.
McCain, himself, came out this morning with a response.
It’s a dumb thing to say, not just because it minimalizes a veteran’s contribution to the American cause (which should be enough to cause a stir, in and of itself), but because it gives John McCain some legitimatcy, particularly in light of his comments that Trump had drawn out the “crazies.” Of all the arguments in favor of Trump’s candidacy, the most compelling is that the GOP hasn’t been saying the right things, or doing the right things, to keep in touch with the base – they may be crazy, but they still vote. Trump may be crazy – he would be a horrible President – but he taps into something. And he deligitimized himself.
This will play out over the week, I’m sure.