There's No Depth Too Low for Trump: Intimidation, Misogyny and Conspiracies Are His Campaign Playbook Against Hillary
Throughout the GOP primary people have been shocked at the cretinous behavior of Donald Trump. From the very beginning when he claimed Mexico was sending rapists over the border to saying Megyn Kelly was bleeding “from wherever” to talking about the size of his penis on national television to accusing Ted Cruz’s father of being in on the JFK assassination, it’s been clear that he has no limits. And yet, for some reason, the media is shocked each time he proves it again. This week was no exception. On Tuesday, all anyone could talk about was the audacity of his latest atrocious comments to the Washington Post’s Robert Costa:
One issue on Trump’s radar is the 1993 death of [former Clinton administration official Vince] Foster, which has been ruled a suicide by law enforcement officials and a subsequent federal investigation. But some voices on the far right have long argued that the Clintons may have been involved in a conspiracy that led to Foster’s death.
When asked in an interview last week about the Foster case, Trump dealt with it as he has with many edgy topics—raising doubts about the official version of events even as he says he does not plan to talk about it on the campaign trail. He called theories of possible foul play “very serious” and the circumstances of Foster’s death “very fishy.”
“He had intimate knowledge of what was going on,” Trump said, speaking of Foster’s relationship with the Clintons at the time. “He knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide.” He added, “I don’t bring [Foster’s death] up because I don’t know enough to really discuss it. I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder. I don’t do that because I don’t think it’s fair.”
He doesn’t think it’s fair. And he’s only repeating that he’s heard the former president and his wife, the probable presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, are murderers. He’s just sayin’.
For the record, this case was investigated by the police, several congressional committees, one of which famously staged a shooting of a watermelon in the backyard of the committee chairman as some sort of homemade forensic experiment. It was investigated by two independent prosecutors with unlimited funds and mandates and they were all forced to admit the obvious—that Vince Foster had committed suicide. And he committed suicide because he was depressed about being hounded night and day by the Republicans who acted like rabid dogs from the moment Clinton was inaugurated. The endless disgusting airing of the issue was extremely painful for the Foster family, as one might imagine.
None of that ever quelled the gossip in the dank waters of the fetid right-wing fever swamps, where it mixed with a toxic brew of purported drug running, numerous murders and assasinations, sexual perversity, love children and anything else that emerged from the gothic imaginations of small-town Arkansas and found its way to the nation’s gullible press corps. Many right-wingers still believe it was all true, every last bit of it, and they’re never going to admit otherwise. To the media it was a tabloid bonanza and ratings gold—just like Donald Trump.
It’s been clear that Trump was going to dredge up all this stuff for months so nobody should have been surprised. His close associate, the professional character assassin Roger Stone, has said so openly, frequently appearing on Alex Jones’s conspiracy program announcing that Trump himself was paying some of the women from the old days to hit the circuit once again and tell the stories that have also been thoroughly investigated and ultimately discredited. And he’s written a fictional scandal primer, especially for the campaign, called The Clintons’ War on Women, which is serving as Trump’s main source of dirt and slime.
But it’s fair to ask why he would decide so early in the general election campaign to lob something as incendiary as a murder charge. One might have assumed that he would start more slowly and build up to it. I think there are a couple of reasons for his doing it now. Trump is a gut player but when it comes to the tactics of mud-slinging there is good reason to believe that he thinks it through.
Right now his most important task is to consolidate the Republicans, and, in particular, bring the conservative movement types into his camp. The polls show that the voters are falling in line, but he needs talk radio and Fox and the movement groups like the Tea Party to be enthusiastic, and the best way to do that is to viciously attack their common enemy. He’s also now in the fundraising business and he has a good feel for what will work to get the folks all riled up. They love the Mexican and Muslim hate, but there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned Clinton bashing to get their blood up.
Needless to say, this is also an effort to nullify his own myriad weaknesses. He likes to say that he’s a counter-puncher but it’s not precisely correct. He hits his rivals not only when they take a shot at him but when the press takes a shot at him. It’s his way of deflecting the attention away from his vulnerabilities to what he sees as his strength—his willingness to bludgeon his enemies.
But these are not the main reasons he’s hitting now and hitting hard with one of the ugliest accusations from back in the day. It’s about intimidation. And we know this because the has telegraphed his intentions for some time, going all the way back to December when he tweeted at Clinton to “BE CAREFUL” and shortly thereafter went after Bill Clinton for being an “abuser” and Hillary Clinton for being an “enabler.” He has bragged on the stump ever since that this one-two punch “gave them a very bad week-end” and seems to think it scared Bill Clinton off the campaign trail.
Now that he’s vanquished all of his Republican rivals after having used similarly degrading comments, he is convinced that this is the key to his success and believes he wins through sheer dominance, looming over his rivals with his big hair and his big hands and his big brass ego. (And don’t kid yourself, that’s exactly how he plans to “make America great again” around the world as well—through belligerence and bullying.)
This is primitive stuff. And Trump isn’t the first one to use this cheap ploy. Read any Maureen Dowd column for the last 20 years to see how simple stereotypes have been used to portray Democratic men as effete and feminine leaders compared to the macho swashbucklers on the right. From poor Mike Dukakis in a tank to John Kerry’s flaccid flip-flopping to Barack “Obambi” these tired tropes have been deployed in election after election.
But doing this with an actual woman as the nominee is tricky, requiring something a little bit more complicated than the typical bully behavior. He first has to justify his attacks by portraying her as an archetypal evil woman—a conniving, manipulative harpy who stood by her husband for professional reasons but brutally punished the women he pursued. (There is zero evidence for this but it makes a dramatic story.) But once he establishes that narrative he then has to subjugate her with ruthless efficiency by attacking her for her husband’s failings and rendering her mute with audaciously inappropriate gendered insults. The point is to make her look powerless and weak. He wants to attack her repeatedly and with such force that we feel ill and just want it to end. That’s how he wins.
It’s going to be an ugly six months, uglier than anything we’ve seen in politics for a long time—perhaps ever. One cannot help but marvel that our country is about to nominate the first woman on a major-party ticket in its long history and it has produced the most boorish, retrograde openly misogynist man it could find to oppose her. What does that say about our culture and our country? Nothing very edifying, that’s for sure.