I wondered how Trump fans would explain and justify his behavior last night. I had no doubt they would do it, and it didn’t take long for the preferred defense to emerge. Basically, it went something like this: Trump knows he’s got the GOP nomination sewed up, so he’s smartly and strategically appealing to Democrats and the middle.
Only problem is—well, there are several problems with that theory. The first is that Trump still has to win states such as South Carolina, where this debate was held, prior to their primary. And in the GOP in South Carolina and pretty much everywhere, his view is a highly unpopular one. Although he has been leading in the polls there (just as he was in Iowa) he knows from Iowa that a debate performance can help or hurt. So there’s a timing problem; this is no time to pivot to the middle. There’s plenty of time for that later, once he really had tied up the nomination.
Then there’s the fact that ideas such as blaming 9/11 on Bush because it happened during his “reign” (Trump’s phrase) is not a middle or a moderate position. It appeals to leftists, but a leftist won’t vote for Trump in the general based on that alone, even if the leftist agrees with that particular position of his. Most voters who believe that also don’t believe in the rest of Trump’s platform.
In addition, Trump said these things about George Bush (Bush lied!!!) with a demeanor that looked somewhat unhinged. So there were two messages in his statements—content and process, as it were. The content was pretty far out (and leftist) to begin with, especially for a GOP primary in SC, and the process was also pretty far out, too: his emotional state, and his interpersonal behavior, which came across as childish.
Lastly—and this may be most important of all—this was not something Trump came up with for last night or even for this election. He has been stating these beliefs since 2007 or 2008 at least. He has been extremely consistent in this point of view, and I’m surprised more people didn’t know that before. If they didn’t, it’s certainly not for lack of trying to get the word out on my part. I’ve been writing about the topic for many months. Here are just two examples: this and this (that latter post is one of the earliest I ever wrote about Trump). These thoughts are not new for Trump; they’re very very old. This is a deeply entrenched part of his belief system, and I’m glad it’s finally coming out.
Now Trump is trying to walk it back a little, as I suspected he might. He must have heard it didn’t play all that well with the folks in Peoria. Hey, the walkback might even work, because he’s a good con artist and people are gullible. But if you look at his history, last night’s attack on George Bush was mild compared to some in the past.
I hope it all comes out.