Polman: Worried Trump can beat Hillary? Don't be
You know that nutjob you always see on the street, speed-rapping to himself about God knows what? His verbatim dialogue probably goes something like this:
"You know the Republicans — honestly folks, our leaders, our leaders have to get tougher. This is too tough to do it alone, but you know what, I think I'm going to be forced to. I think I'm going to be forced to. Our leaders have to get a lot tougher. And be quiet. Just please be quiet. Don't talk. Please be quiet. Just be quiet to the leaders, because they have to get tougher, they have to get sharper, they have to get smarter. We have to have our Republicans either stick together or let me just do it by myself. I'll do very well. I'm going to do very well. OK? I'm going to do very well. A lot of people thought I should do that anyway, but I'll just do it nicely by myself ..."
So said Donald Trump on the stump Wednesday.
What he appeared to be saying — if I am decoding his incoherence properly; no easy task, because he makes Sarah Palin sound like Cicero — is that he wants congressional Republicans to shut up and let him run the whole show. Which is what you'd expect from a tinpot autocrat who has no clue about campaign teamwork, or any respect for checks, balances, and the separation of powers.
Thanks to his recent string of verbal idiocies, he has fallen woefully behind in this race. Hillary Clinton had opened a 12-point lead in one national poll, and an 11-point lead in another. State-level polls show that even red bastions like Utah, Arizona, Kansas, and Georgia are in play.
Most Americans dislike Trump by a landslide. In one new national poll, his favorability share had sagged to 29 percent. In that poll, he now has a net-negative rating among working-class whites.
One big reason for his burgeoning unpopularity — and this becomes clearer with each passing day — is that he's way over his head. He has no clue how to connect with people beyond his core fan base, and he's too vain and/or ignorant to take advice.
Last week, for instance, a savvy adviser would've told him: "Donald, if you wanna win crucial North Carolina, you're gonna need massive turnout from its soldiers and vets. So trust me, Donald, it's really a terrible idea to rhetorically attack U.S. servicemen and women, to call them thieves, while campaigning just 90 miles from a U.S. military base."
But since no such adviser exists, here's what Trump said that day about our war in Iraq:
"Crooked as hell. How about bringing baskets of money — millions and millions of dollars — and handing it out? I want to know who were the soldiers that had that job, because I think they're living very well right now, whoever they may be."
Trump was actually right, as far as it goes. During the past decade, 115 military personnel have been convicted of skimming money that we earmarked for the Iraqis. That's 115 people out of the hundreds of thousands who served in Iraq, who put their lives on the line. Indeed, the problem with Trump's remark, politically speaking, is that it sounded like a broadbrush slandering of our fighting men and women. In military-heavy swing-state North Carolina, no less.
And even though Trump wants congressional Republicans to "just be quiet," this incident in North Carolina has triggered a vocal mini-rebellion.
At least three GOP senators have already condemned Trump's remarks. A lot of Republicans are diving for the bunkers, hoping to survive November, and there's no way Trump can muzzle them all. This isn't 1933 Germany, when you could just burn down the Reichstag.
Nope, this is 2016 America, where Lamar Alexander, an exasperated Republican senator, told the press earlier this week that "we do not have a nominee until after the convention." And when he was reminded that Trump was the presumptive nominee, he replied, "That's what you say."
To which I say, "Hello, Cleveland!"
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Pennsylvania.