Polman: Trump's winging it should scare all
What's important to remember about Donald Trump is that our aspiring tinpot despot is wildly winging his presidential campaign. It's like he's the star of his own improv show.
The problem is that every time Trump flaps his infamous yap, he loses audience share. A recent national poll says that he's now viewed favorably by just 23 percent of American women, and that poll was conducted before Wednesday's rhetorical detonation about women being criminally punished for having an abortion.
What's truly pitiful (and what so vividly illustrates his unpreparedness for office) is he made those comments during a "town hall" exchange with Chris Matthews while flying by the seat of his pants. This is not someone who has thought deeply about the kinds of policies that actually affect human beings. This is someone who, when backed into a corner, riffs off the top of his head, in impolitic ways that reveal his true character.
Basically, Trump boldly goes where no politician has gone before. He is the Captain Kirk of misogyny.
Trump has been parading himself as an anti-abortion guy (because his market is the Republican right), so Matthews asked, "You're running for president of the United States....Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no, as a principle?"
Trump: "The answer is there has to be some form of punishment."
Matthews: "For the woman?"
Matthews: What type of punishment? And for how long?
Trump: "That will have to be determined."
Matthews: "What about the guy who gets her pregnant?...Is he responsible under the law for these abortions?"
Trump: "I would say no."
Riffing by instinct, he reached his nadir. Women get punished, men are off the hook. That stance was so out there even the anti-abortion women were slapping their foreheads.
The oft-stated view of the pro-life right is predominantly male doctors should be punished, not the women who have abortions. Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said in a statement that Trump is "completely out of touch with the pro-life movement — and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion ... No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion. This is against the very nature of what we are about. (We want) paths to healing, not punishment."
Trump blundered into a political no-no. The best way for a Republican to address the punishment issue is simply to dodge it. Way back in 1988, candidate George H. W. Bush, an anti-abortion convert, was specifically asked whether women who have abortions should be jailed. His fuzzy reply, during one of the debates, was, "I haven't sorted out the penalties ... I'm for the sanctity of life, and once that illegality is established, then we can come to grips with the penalty side, and of course there's got to be some penalties to enforce the law, whatever they may be."
But Trump, being an improv amateur, went full misogynist — and then tried to reverse himself within hours, releasing a new statement saying that the doctors should be punished, not the gals. We'll see how that plays in Wisconsin, which votes next Tuesday; a Marquette University poll, released Wednesday, says Trump is drawing only 23 percent of Republican women. Like most voters, they don't mind a little pandering. But pandering plus ill-preparedness is a surefire loser.
Stephanie Cegielski should get the last word. A communications specialist and adjunct NYU professor who worked last year for Trump's now-defunct super PAC, she saw the guy up close. Now she writes, "I don't think even Trump thought he would get this far. And I don't even know that he wanted to, which is perhaps the scariest prospect of all. He certainly was never prepared or equipped to go all the way to the White House, but his ego has now taken over the driver's seat, and nothing else matters. ... The Donald is his own biggest enemy."
We're seeing that now, on a tragically daily basis. The big question is what the abject GOP intends to do about it.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Philadelphia.