In 2016, there are few people with more relevant political experience than Dana Perino, former Bush administration press secretary and current co-host of The Five on Fox News. Add her remarkably kind personality and you have someone who could be a tremendous asset to a presidential candidate who is willing to listen.
Yet when she was asked on Tuesday what advice she has for Donald Trump following the Republican candidate’s horrendous week of self-inflicted wounds (note to Mr. Trump: self-injury does not merit a Purple Heart) Dana demurred: “I’m done trying to give advice.” (Start 12 minutes into this video.)
Who can blame her? If you were still in doubt whether Donald Trump took any counsel but his own, the last few days have obliterated it.
Trump’s insult of Ghazala Khan, the mother of a fallen U.S. Army soldier, was by far the biggest gaffe of his campaign. It doesn’t matter that he was “viciously attacked” first. It doesn’t matter that he noted Captain Humayan Khan’s heroism. It doesn’t matter, as conservative “journalists” try to cover for him after the fact, that Khizr Khan, the soldier’s father and a Muslim immigrant to the United States, has written about Sharia law or makes money as an immigration attorney. You have to have an ego surplus and a common sense deficit to publicly speculate that the reason for the stoic mother’s silence is anything other than grief.
Trump calls himself a counter-puncher but what he really reminds me of is a boxer who walks around the ring punching the other fighter’s manager, trainer, wife, and fans.
Donald Trump spent a couple of days in Colorado, trying to broaden his appeal in this purple state, a state which he must believe is still winnable although recent polls cast serious doubt. He was late to a rally in Colorado Springs because an elevator he was in malfunctioned, requiring the Colorado Springs Fire Department to extricate him. Trump’s reaction? To spend minutes berating the fire marshal at the event venue for limiting occupancy to the levels permitted by regulation, suggesting that the fire marshal is a “Hillary person” who “doesn’t know what the hell (he’s) doing.”
On Tuesday, Trump emphasized to the Washington Post that when it comes to endorsing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, he is “not quite there yet,” obvious payback for Paul Ryan’s hesitancy in May to endorse Mr. Trump. Ryan’s words then: “I’m just not ready to do that at this point. I’m not there right now.”
Strangely, Ben Carson, one of the worst surrogates in Trump’s stable of gaffe-prone public supporters, told CNN on Wednesday that Trump would eventually side with Ryan, an unlikely shift given Trump’s public support of Ryan’s primary challenger, Paul Nehlen, who has not been shy about his support for The Donald while throwing mindless rhetorical bombs of “globalism” (as if that’s a bad thing) at Speaker Ryan.
While Ryan’s political team is not making the mistake Eric Cantor made of ignoring his challenger, Ryan’s favorability ratings in his state and in his congressional district far surpass those of Donald Trump (or of incumbent Senator Ron Johnson, whose reelection seems sadly in doubt.) Does Donald Trump really want to completely alienate the most powerful (and among the most popular) Republican in America?
And as if that’s not enough, Trump’s vice-presidential running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, not only “strongly endorsed” Ryan but also claimed that Mr. Trump “strongly encouraged” him to do so.
This is a campaign that is utterly off the rails, because it is led by a man who does not recognize that rails exist.
Speaking of off the rails and gaffe-prone surrogates, how about Katrina Pierson’s claim that Captain Khan’s death was likely caused by the policy of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to change the rules of engagement for American forces in Iraq? Capt. Khan was killed in 2004.
Perhaps she was channeling Mr. Trump’s reality-defying claim that Russia is “not going to go into Ukraine.” In any case, this led to a top-trending Twitter hashtag #KatrinaPiersonHistory Including gems such as “Obama continually travels back in time, killing all of the assassins who are hunting Baby Hitler. #KatrinaPiersonHistory” and “Hillary Clinton slashed funding for security at the Ford Theater, leading to Lincoln’s assassination. #KatrinaPiersonHistory.” You have to give Ms. Pierson credit for responding with a more amused approach than her boss usually does: “#MakeAmericaGreatAgain by getting @realDonaldTrump elected President will go down in #KatrinaPiersonHistory.”
If there is a theme to the Donald Trump campaign, a fundamental message, even if it is simply “Make America Great Again,” it’s lost in the white noise of the campaign’s own making. It is political malpractice en route to political suicide.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The American people are beyond frustrated with an economy weighed down by over-regulation and tax hikes and the persistent fear of more of both. They are beyond frustrated with a government that compounds problems rather than fixing them — something that really can only be accomplished by getting Big Brother out of the way, inconceivable in the remaining months of Obama’s presidency or under a Clinton administration.
The American people want change far more desperately now than they did when a meaningless mantra of “hope and change” got the hopelessly unqualified Barack Hussein Obama elected president.
The American people are not just willing to hire, but expressly desirous of hiring, a non-politician to lead the nation for the next four years.
All they really want is a non-politician who brings a sense of stability and common sense and at least a modest command of details.
Yet Donald Trump’s behavior in recent days, far more even than in months past, demonstrates a chaotic, undisciplined narcissism that distracts from and erodes his political raison d’être: that he is a successful businessman whose skill set can be brought to bear on the American economy and political system.
Following his CO Springs berating of the fire marshal, in a nearly hour-long speech to a few thousand people in Denver later that evening, Trump spent a precious few minutes mentioning what he should be talking about every hour of every day: economics. He correctly mentioned our stuck-in-the-mud economic growth, the massive decline in home ownership, chronic unemployment and particularly disastrous unemployment levels among black youth. He talked about falling real wages and the fact that Hillary talks about none of this, as Democrats act as if all is well in the world except for the existence of Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
Days later, instead of attacking his Democratic opponent with his trademark “Crooked Hillary,” a tag-line that everybody understands, he decided to call Hillary Clinton “the devil.” One need not have a more favorable opinion of Mrs. Clinton than Donald Trump does to recognize that it’s far past time to expand the rhetoric beyond this brain-dead preaching to the converted. Especially in a state like Colorado that is more politically moderate with each passing year.
So, I’ll take on the role that Dana Perino is too disheartened to continue in and offer Mr. Trump a piece of advice, even as I recognize that nothing about Mr. Trump’s behavior suggests that he keeps any counsel but his own:
I understand that you think a particular type of campaign has gotten you this far and that guidance to become more (you fill in the blank) is a mistake. But you already have all of the voters who can be had by your prior approach and they are not nearly enough to allow you to measure the drapes in the Oval Office.
This need not be a complicated election strategy. Only three primary messages must be reiterated until they are deeply ingrained in voters’ minds:
I urge you, Mr. Trump, try to stay focused. Your speech in Denver was characterized by ADD of the worst sort, with jarring shifts among topics every minute. Know what you want to talk about — what you need to talk about — and make sure to keep returning to those core tenets of your fundamental message.
On a related note: In recent days, I have had four on-air conversations with people who have recently had the opportunity to spend time with you in small groups. To a man, they say you are a completely different person in that setting. I’ve heard words like “big-hearted,” “kind,” “thoughtful,” “soft-spoken,” “grandfatherly” and “interested in details.”
Nobody who knows you only from your large public events during this political season — meaning almost every American voter — would find those adjectives coming immediately to mind when asked to describe you. That’s a shame because widespread recognition of those traits could garner for you the votes of those independent-voting Americans who are most hesitant about you today, particularly suburban women and those with college educations. Doing better among these demographics is absolutely necessary for you to be the next president of the United States and to be a unifying leader if elected.
I have never voted for a Democrat and would never consider voting for the reprehensible Mrs. Clinton. But frankly, Mr. Trump, as of today you do not have my vote. I am keeping an open mind, primarily because of the likelihood of multiple Supreme Court nominations during the next president’s term. I, like many Americans, am willing to consider you despite my deep-seated opposition to your views on free trade (among other things) because the alternative is so unacceptable.
If you want my vote, and the votes of millions of Americans who share my concerns, I ask you, please, show the other side of Donald Trump. Show thoughtfulness, attention to detail, a hint of kindness blended into the strength you already exude, the ability to let a criticism pass without needing to respond (the mark of a truly strong person), and the ability to focus on what so many of us — including, I believe, you — recognize as the truly important issues facing our nation today and in years to come.