I. John Hinderaker was tough, but right: “Some of the rats might want to consider returning to the ship.” We are now all used to “breaking news” that tells the American people, whether in acts of God or violence, wrong things. There’s been a tendency for cable outlets to rush to be the first to be wrong, whether it’s about body-counts or motivations. We now have that in politics. When “the tape” came out Friday, the shock was fairly palpable. But many of us thought “Didn’t most of us know this was how Donald Trump talked already?” and “Okay, we made our uneasy ‘peace’ with this kind of talk a while ago.” Still, Andy McCarthy put his finger on something, observing, “the power of a tape to make its mark on our consciousness is simply unequaled.”
Sure enough, on Saturday, the escalation and mimicry of abandoning Trump reached crescendo after crescendo. But by the end of the day, the echo chamber appeared to begin to backfire, and seemed as if Republicans were just trying to save their own skins and races. After all, what truly was new about Donald Trump that wasn’t true a week ago? Those NeverTrump conservatives who questioned how those who now showed surprise over the weekend could take so long were, after all, right.
But, the abandoning of Trump was little more than political virtue signaling and it was quite obvious that those on the left who would never vote for a Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush, yet were quoting Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush on Donald Trump, should have been the last people Republicans should have been listening to for political advice, or any advice at all. But that is the Republican pull and temptation: “Must not look bad to Carly Simon,” the club at Martha’s Vineyard is too important, or something. But that is the power of the left, and the weakness of conservatism–always trying to please those whose votes will never come.
Then followed the predictions that the Trump campaign was over–all before the second debate. The rush to be the first to be wrong, again. Peggy Noonan had an incisive column last month about the new and inexperienced pundit class, “They have seen the movie and not read the book,” she wrote. She’s right. But sometimes when dealing with a box-office figure, like Donald Trump, the movie is more important than the book, and that’s what the “Dump Trump” and experienced pundit class missed–only to become, again, the first to be wrong. In a box-office election, people are watching the movie, not reading the book, because the advice in the book has failed them, and it was too boring anyway. I would suspect that there was not one vote to harvest from Republicans who dumped Trump on Saturday, and now, after last night’s debate, I would equally suspect they all–or almost all–regret their rush to be wrong.
II. Donald Trump won the debate handily last night. This was not a close call. The moderators clearly were tougher on him, and that’s twice now. His comment to the moderators, “It’s nice— one on three,” had to strike a big part of what Americans care about, i.e., “fairness.” Most thought he’d go in shaken from the weekend’s cascade of abandonment from within his own party, but he was hardly even stirred. He was calm–mostly, and tough, and made no major gaffes. All the memorable lines were his–and he turned Abraham Lincoln against Hillary in a very choice moment. He showed a reserve with that one most didn’t think he had, not even his supporters.
But that was not the most important part of the debate. The most important part was the revelation about just how much Hillary Clinton will lie and think she can lie. The media should be all over this, and yet, they are not. This is an easy one, and a big one. When Donald Trump spoke of Hillary Clinton as “there as secretary of state with the so-called line in the sand,” Hillary jumped in with “No, I wasn’t. I was gone. I hate to interrupt you, but at some point…At some point, we need to do some fact-checking here.” The “line,” was drawn by President Obama in 2012, Clinton left office in 2013. This is easy–and that Hillary would interrupt about her very own tenure, wrongly, and put out a faux call to fact checkers on something few would know more about than she is the most telling take-away from the debate, clearer than any argument over whether Trump supported the war in Iraq or not. Seems Hillary has a default debate macro these days that the media have let her run with, “fact check.” Turns out, when she says it, it’s usually a lie.
III. It is my lasting hope that the politics of self-righteousness we all seem to live with will soon end. Hillary Clinton’s opening statement was all about Donald Trump not being “fit to serve,” about “who he is” as a person. Trump responded. And hard, hitting on Hillary’s fitness. Then Hillary went into high sanctimony with “He gets to run his campaign any way he chooses. He gets to decide what he wants to talk about. Instead of answering people’s questions, talking about our agenda, laying out the plans that we have that we think can make a better life and a better country, that’s his choice.” As if Donald Trump was the one who went personal. Note to everyone: he was responding to her attack. When you draw first blood, you do not get to blame your opponent for responding, or try to inoculate yourself from similar charges by being self-righteous.
In sum, “Dump Trump” is gone. The tape from last Friday will probably not be heard about again. And those conservatives who only read the books, or write them, really ought to listen and watch a little more. If they did, they’d remember why Donald Trump won the nomination. And maybe they could remember, too, that this election is, as every election should be, not about feeling good about yourself but doing good for your country.