Polman: The banana republic candidate
Down in the dark where the demons live, Donald Trump surely knows he's DOA. So he figures that what the heck, he might as well do his best to exhibit his very worst.
And during the second presidential debate, Trump went full thug. He said that if he wins, he'll sic a special prosecutor on Hillary Clinton and lock her away. And when Clinton said, "it's just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law of our country," he shot back: "Because you'd be in jail."
Presumably, we have not become so numb to his demagoguery that we cannot recognize the clear and present danger he poses to our democratic values.
Not surprisingly, his latest debate performance was studded with lowlights. He said that his boasting of sexual assault caught on tape was just "locker room talk," but I can attest, from personal experience, that locker-room guys pushing 60 don't talk about assaulting women. They mostly whine that attractive women treat them like they're invisible. By the way, Trump also said, "Nobody has more respect for women than I do," and I won't even bother to parse that one.
Let's see, what else ... He said that Clinton has "tremendous hate in her heart," which is what the shrinks call psychological projection, the need to defend oneself against one's worst unconscious impulses. He also made all kinds of excuses for Putin, which figures. He also denied that he sent a late-night tweet asking us to "check out sex tape" of a former beauty queen, lying about the very thing we all saw with our own eyes.
Let's see, what else ... When a Muslim-American asked Trump, "How will you help people like me deal with the consequences of being labeled as a threat to the country?" he replied that Muslims should stop abetting terrorism. For instance, "In San Bernardino, many people saw the bombs all over the apartment of the two people that killed 14 and wounded many, many people." Therefore, "Muslims have to report the problems when they see them." There's no evidence whatsoever that Muslims in San Bernadino saw "bombs all over the apartment" and refused to report it.
Let's see, what else ... He stonewalled yet again about his tax returns and his income taxes. And he's not even in sync with his running mate about whether to get tough with Russia. When Trump was told that Mike Pence wants to meet Russian provocations with American strength, he replied: "He and I haven't spoken, and I disagree." (Um ... Your running mate said that stuff about Russia five nights earlier, tough stuff that contradicts your soft stance, and you didn't speak to him in all that time?)
But of all the lowlights (and there were many more), his banana republic thuggery ranked highest. Ari Fleischer, who served as George W. Bush's secretary, who in no way can be considered a fan of Hillary Clinton, said last night: "Winning candidates don't threaten to put opponents in jail. Presidents don't threaten prosecution of individuals. Trump is wrong."
Trump is worse than wrong. He aspires to be Putin's Mini-Me, to be a tinpot dictator like Juan Peron. He has no respect for the peaceful transition of power — in part because he is ruled by his vile temperament and his vengeful impulses; in part because he has never spent a day in public service, appointive or elective, and therefore has no clue about the responsible exercise of power.
He goes on national TV, in a debate watched by tens of millions of Americans, and threatens a politically-motivated prosecution as if it were normal. Shame on us if we take this as normal.
Most of what Trump said and did last night will be applauded by his peanut gallery, which has a bottomless thirst for his serial lies and demagogic drivel. He has a lock on 35 to 40 percent of the electorate — that's his floor — but his debate performance won't raise his ceiling. There simply aren't enough acolytes to comprise a winning majority. Based on what he said and did Sunday night, will tens of millions of new voters suddenly flock to him? Will the dozens of Republican lawmakers who dumped him this weekend suddenly change their minds? Nah. And now they're on record demanding that he quit the race.
Imagine that. A month away from election day, and the nominee of a major party is under siege to quit. But hey, I'm glad he's defiant. For the sake of the democratic values we revere, the best scenario is for this fatally-wounded wildebeest to lumber wildly across the land, bleeding from his wherevers, to the bitter end.
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.