It looks like Donald Trump is unraveling. After months where his Republican competitors treated him with kid gloves — often afraid to tangle with him on the debate stage and foolishly spending hundreds of millions of donor dollars attacking one another — Trump is now experiencing a real presidential race. He’s learning what it’s like to be in the crosshairs in every debate, the subject of hammering attack ads, and the target of a concerted activist effort to derail his candidacy. And he’s not handling it well. Not at all.
The emotional strains are clear. What man in his right mind brags about the size of his penis during a presidential debate? Yet if that now-infamous incident had been the only sign of a crack-up in Thursday night’s debate, we could write it off as a more extreme example of Trump being Trump. But it wasn’t, not by a long shot. Under fire, he simply lost his bearings.
First, he capitulated on the alleged cornerstone of his appeal — immigration. He’d already repeated the absurd argument that he’d hired immigrants for jobs Americans wouldn’t do — a position that Ted Cruz skillfully rebutted by asking the audience for a show of hands if they were current or former waiters or waitresses. But then he clearly signaled that his entire immigration position was nothing more than a bargaining chip. “I’m changing,” he said. “I’m softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country.”
What? For the better part of a year, his diehard fans have hammered home that he was the only one on the stage serious about dealing with illegal immigration. Everyone else was soft. Everyone else was politically correct. Yet it took only about two minutes of attacks about his mysterious off-the-record interview with the New York Times to get him to crack. Yes, his campaign tried to clean up the mess, but the damage was done.
Next, the façade cracked regarding his much-vaunted love for the American fighting man. When questioned about his insistence that he would not only order terrorists tortured but he’d order American soldiers to kill their families, he doubled down on disrespect. Speaking of soldiers bound by law and honor to fight only enemy combatants and to protect prisoners from harm, he said simply, “They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.”
With those words, Trump demonstrated his true contempt for the military. Confronted with a choice between respect for the laws and traditions that govern America’s armed forces and publicly eating even the smallest slice of humble pie, he defaulted to Mussolini mode.
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