Even by Donald Trump's standards, this has been a bad week. The Donald's foot is permanently planted in his mouth, so it's not unusual for him to say something egregious or stupid. But he's on quite a roll lately.
First, he cavalierly dismissed the Geneva Conventions, the foundation of international laws concerning the humane treatment of all soldiers. “The problem,” Trump said, “is we have the Geneva Conventions, all sorts of rules and regulations, so the soldiers are afraid to fight. We can't waterboard, but they can chop off heads. I think we've got to make some changes.” To even suggest this is both absurd and an indication of how ill-prepared Trump is for the job.
Trump then went on a conservative Wisconsin radio show (a crucial state in the primary race) and courageously told the truth about Gov. Scott Walker's neoliberal nightmare: “But you had a $2.2 billion budget deficit and the schools were going begging and everything was going begging because he [Walker] didn't want to raise taxes because he was going to run for president. So instead of raising taxes he cut back on schools, he cut back on highways, cut back on a lot of things. And that's why...Wisconsin has a problem.”
This isn't wrong, but telling inconvenient truths to a Republican audience never ends well. To challenge the no-tax Gospel in this way is pure heresy in conservative circles – it's as dangerous as professing belief in science. Yet Trump did just that, knowing it would alienate this wing of the party.
Trump also fumbled his attempts to neutralize the story about his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who was charged with simple battery for an altercation with a reporter earlier this month. The wise move is to dismiss Lewandowski. At the very least, though, Trump could've remained impartial while the process played itself out. Instead, he questioned the character of the reporter who was roughed up by Lewandowski.
The biggest blunder of the week was Trump's exchange with MSNBC's Chris Matthews. Asked whether abortion should be punished, Trump initially dodged the question, saying “it's a very serious problem and it's a problem we should decide on.” But then he promptly reinserted foot in mouth and added that “There has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions.
Even in the Republican Party, this is a preposterous position. It's the kind of remark that ensures he has no chance of winning a general election. The largest demographic in the country is women – there is no pathway to the nomination without their support. According to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, three-quarters of women now view Trump unfavorably. That number alone all but guarantees a landslide defeat for Trump in November. To threaten women with punishment in this way will only exacerbate his problem.
Trump's week of follies has led some to question whether he's a self-saboteur. “To all outward appearances,” John Fund writes in The National Review, “Trump seems to be engaged in a form of self-sabotaging behavior in which people both move toward a goal and then from deep within do things to defeat themselves.” This is a perfectly legitimate question. It's very likely the Donald never intended to become president at all, that this whole thing is a ruse, a publicity stunt. Indeed, we received confirmation of this in the form of an open letter to Trump supporters from Stephanie Cegielski, who formerly served as communications director of the pro-Trump super PAC Make America Great Again.
Cegielski wrote: “I don't think even Trump thought he would go this far. And I don't even know that he wanted to, which is perhaps the scariest prospect of all...What was once his desire to rank second place to send a message to America and increase his power as a businessman has nightmarishly morphed into a charade that is poised to do irreparable damage to this country.”
Cheri Jacobus, a Republican strategist who met with Trump about the communications director position, echoed Cegielski's statement: “I believe Trump senses he is in over his head and doesn't really want the nomination. He wanted to help his brand and have fun, but not to be savaged by the Clintons if he's the candidate. He wouldn't mind falling short of a delegate majority, losing the nomination, and then playing angry celebrity victim in the coming years.”
In the months ahead, I suspect Trump's real intent will become increasingly obvious. There is no reason to think he wants to be president. It's an unspeakably complicated job and Trump's defiant ignorance suggests he has no desire to learn what is required. This was always about Trump – his brand, his image, his profile. It should surprise no one if he finds a way to undermine his own campaign. At this point, the best possible outcome for him is to lose without appearing to quit. Then, as Jacobus pointed out, he can expand his celebrity, broaden his influence, and avoid the trouble of actually serving in public office.