To say that this political year is different than any other has — like so many things about this political year — become an understatement. The reason, of course, is Donald Trump, who while not exactly defying gravity, has done a pretty good imitation of it by being so reckless that some pundits are coming around to a point of view I first espoused way back in early March after he swept the Super Tuesday primaries. As driven as Trump is by success and as immense as his boy-man craving for acceptance may be, he really doesn’t want to be president.
I wrote then that:
“I have had a thought bouncing around in the recesses of my mind for some time now: Trump will make some sort of grand gesture at some point because he really is not, down deep, interested in being president, and may even understand that he is incapable of being president.
“I do not know what form that gesture would take or when he will make it, but after many months of this wild ride, I still cannot believe he’s in it for the long haul.”
The wild ride has continued, of course, making Mr. Toad seem like a mere amateur. There may be a “sort of grand gesture” in the offing and there may not, but Trump’s by-now familiar pattern of blowing virtually every opportunity to make headway as he slips steadily and inexorably in the polls may in fact be a bunch of little grand gestures.
There were three of them last week, they were whoppers, and they followed a by now familiar pattern.
Given an opportunity made in political heaven to rake Hillary Clinton over the coals after FBI Director James Comey questioned her judgment and competence in how she handled classified emails — a ready-made Republican attack ad if there ever was one — Trump went way off script by asserting that she had bribed Attorney General Loretta Lynch to avoid because prosecuted.
Given an opportunity to back away from a campaign ad showing an anti-Semitic image of a six-pointed star next to a picture of Clinton, with money raining down in the background, Trump instead offered a defiant defense (“It’s just a star”) and asserted in manic tones that his campaign was the victim of racial profiling.
And given an opportunity to walk back from an extemporaneous outburst during a speech ostensibly about the economy in which he praised former Iraqi thug-in-chief Saddam Hussein for being “so good at killing,” he vigorously reaffirmed his point of view and repeated that the U.S. never should have deposed him.
(Trump did manage to stay relatively restrained after the Dallas sniper attack, although he managed to gin up some controversy after being denied a request to address a roll call at a Midtown Manhattan police precinct for the media hordes and then denying he had made the request.)
It was with the blown opportunities lurking in the background that Jason Horowitz suggested in a July 7 New York Times story that an increasing number of observers (unnamed, of course) believe that Trump keeps self immolating to generate more news coverage, never mind that it’s almost always negative these days, and he may be more interested in winning the presidency than serving as president. Bingo!
“[A]s the race has turned toward the general election and a majority of polls have shown Mr. Trump trailing Mrs. Clinton, speculation has again crept into political conversations in Washington, New York and elsewhere that Mr. Trump will seek an exit strategy before the election to avoid a humiliating loss . . . one that would let him avoid the grueling job of governing, return to his business and his now permanent status as a media celebrity.”
Trump, for his part, won’t rule out quitting after he is elected. Because, you know, he’s gonna be elected. Presented with that scenario during a recent interview with Horowitz, Trump is said to have flashed a mischievous “you’re onto something” smile, shook the reporter’s hand, and said:
“I’ll let you know how I feel about it after it happens.”
Trump is the conspiracy freak, not me. But I have no trouble working my fervid mind through Trump’s nonstop and over-the-top aggression, seeming antipathy about campaigning in the states he needs to win, his disdain for building a serious campaign organization or raising serious scratch, and his penchant for self sabotage to a scenario where the nomination would be wrested from him at the Cleveland convention, and that would be okay.
I’ll let you know how I feel about it after it happens.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on July 10, 2016, on Kiko’s House, a website featuring commentary by journalist and author, Shaun Mullen. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Mullen.