At a reelection rally in Battle Creek, Michigan last Wednesday, Donald Trump took a sarcastic swing at U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and her late husband, John Dingell, lately of the same—apparently hereditary—congressional district.
The president, after commenting on the elaborate funeral arrangements he approved for the deceased congressman, jokingly insinuated the former lawmaker might have reached a different destination in the afterlife that would be kindly supposed.
“John would be so thrilled (at the funeral details),” Trump said. “He’s looking down. Maybe he’s looking up. I don’t know.”
I watched him deliver the line and the president was obviously kidding. At any rate, the joke fell flat on the ears of leaders on both sides of the aisle. It looks to be a rhetorical presidential self-own. And not the first.
The expected response was duly delivered from the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). I won’t bore you with it. However, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called on the president to apologize, as did Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) lauded Dingell, saying he “made a great contribution to America . . . I considered him a friend.”
All of those Republicans are staunch supporters of the president, as am I.
The most stinging response came from Dingell’s widow, herself a member of Congress. She simply said, “I was already having a hard holiday.”
As anyone who has lost a close family member can attest, the first Christmas without that loved one is a hard holiday indeed. Her response no doubt echoed with many across America who sadly may share similar circumstances this Christmas season. And then our shoot-from-the-hip chief executive decides to mock her for it?
Ummmmm . . .
But, did the president really mean John Dingell went to Hell?
Of course not. Was the line amusing in the sense of shock value? To a point. Did the rally crowd like it? Yes.
Nevertheless, those factors do not make up for the optics of the thing. It is just not in good taste and it does not demonstrate good political sense to take a swipe at a dead man, and by extension at his grieving wife, at Christmas. The president let his widely known love of a good quip, and most of them succeed, overcome his sense of appropriate decorum and common sense.
And he knows that sense of propriety because Trump really isn’t the complete bullyboy populist many of his fans want to believe. The president is an Ivy League-educated son of a millionaire who, until relatively recently, was a registered Democrat and was feted and celebrated as a member of that party by their top echelon. If you watch television interviews with him that go back more than 10 years, you see a far different Donald Trump in demeanor and delivery of message.
But that was then.
At some level, he and his team must know that even when duly and legitimately provoked by the constant barrage of viciously personal attacks against him, Trump’s off-the-cuff hit at a political opponent and war veteran, much as during the McCain feud, did not do him any favors with some moderate members of the electorate he needs to win reelection and especially with female voters who generally prefer a more sublime content of discourse.
I can hear the baying at the moon begin already.
How dare I criticize the president, a man known to be pure of intention and soul? Away with thee apostate! To the depths of the nether regions traitor!
Look, when constructive criticism is leveled at anyone in an attempt to up their game against the common foe it does not constitute pinning on a hammer and sickle and canvassing voters for Bernie Sanders. The robots who equate the two are no better and just as absurd as the leftist automatons that buy the idiocies of the Democratic Party as if they were holy writ.
If Trump acolytes and team members like Graham and McCarthy hold the same sentiments doesn’t that give us a hint that the sentiments might be somewhere in the right ballpark? It should. And any maligning of them for speaking out on this is giving inadvertent succor to the Democrats, as it enables the president to continue without caution his mostly amusing, but occasionally shambolic, lines like this one.
And one line can cost. Don’t think so? Know of Governor George Romney’s (Mitt’s father) statement that he had been “brainwashed” on Vietnam? How about Bush the elder’s “Read my lips, no new taxes” promise made just before raising taxes? The Howard Dean “scream” of 2004? All one liners or casual expressions that exacted a big political price from the speaker.
The president and his reelection effort, for their own good—and so the Democrats don’t get another opportunity like this to paint the president as snide and uncaring—must practice better message discipline on the campaign trail.
In other words, chill, sir.