A Second Chance for Trump to Put it Away? Doubtful
May 5, 2016 editorial note: As Trump is now the presumptive GOP nominee, I am incorrect below — now the fourth time I have incorrectly predicted his demise.
At the presidential campaign level, getting a second chance to put a race away is a rarity — if it’s in your grasp, take it. But as Ryan Lizza points out in his New Yorker piece “How Donald Trump Wasted His Spring Break,” Trump has likely booted away the nomination over the past four to six weeks with a series of curious actions and statements which have undermined his candidacy, and raised his unfavorable rating into the low 60’s.
After incompetent dithering distancing himself from former KKK leader David Duke, the narrative turned towards violence at Trump’s campaign rallies; he then careened from the Corey Lewandowski controversy to the ill-advised re-tweeting of an unflattering picture of Ted Cruz’s wife. Trump said it really wasn’t so bad simply because it “just a re-tweet” — but eventually backtracked and said it was a mistake.
Trump then veered into a series of foreign policy discussions. Despite almost blanket criticism, Trump surely deserves credit for raising very valid questions about NATO, the United Nations, and the nature of the Saudi regime. Why shouldn’t we evaluate NATO spending in our post-Cold War world? Why not put the look-the-other-way Saudi proponents of Wahhabi extremism on notice that the U.S. will not provide blank check security in perpetuity? Those are legitimate issues, and good for Trump for speaking out.
But then Trump made what I believe is the coup de grace gaffe: he said he would consider using tactical nuclear weapons against ISIS. The fact a candidate of Trump’s temperament would open the door to using nuclear weapons of any kind perked the ears of fence-sitters open to Trump, and moved them off the fence. Trump’s nuclear weapons comment has drawn plenty of negative scrutiny. But I believe this specific comment — far more than others cited — put the nomination out of reach. Trump with nuclear weapons? Scary.
In the final analysis, Trump was just being Trump — and he just couldn’t help himself. He had Cruz on the ropes in early March, and the nomination in the bag. It’s now likely gone, as the Cruz forces are just too disciplined, too skilled and too opportunistic when it comes to seizing on mistakes and openings.