If you watched any part of Donald Trump’s press conference Wednesday morning, you might have hoped that surely this was the moment that would end the David Cronenberg-esque nightmare that has become our 2016 presidential election. Alas, it won’t even come close. Arguably, it should. But you could have argued that about pretty much anything Trump has said or done over the last year, and yet here we are.
Trump just can’t help himself. No one pays attention to him for ten minutes and he turns into the type of babbling lunatic who subway passengers would switch cars to avoid. Over the rambling course of an hour, he managed, in no particular order, to say the following:
- Accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of calling President Obama “the n-word.”
- Suggested he’d be open to removing sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea.
- Said, in reaction to the news that all remaining charges that the Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray had been dropped, that the city’s prosecutor was “disgraceful” for prosecuting the case in the first place, and that she should “prosecute herself,” whatever that means.
- Invited Russian hackers to hack into…wherever…to get their hands on the 30,000 emails Hillary Clinton’s lawyers deleted from her email server.
It is that last one that particularly seemed to shock and appall the media, politicians and sane people everywhere. (The first one probably had Trump’s hardcore supporters wondering if Putin could replace Mike Pence as the vice presidential nominee on the ticket.) Here was a man in line to be president of the United States inviting foreign hackers from an oligarchy run by one of the world’s most visible boogeymen to invade American computer systems in search of emails that were deleted from a private server, were not apparently found by the FBI and the State Department during their investigations of the issue, and, if backups exist, could be anywhere.
It is not that this is abnormal behavior for a presidential candidate. All sense of “normal” went out the window long ago. It is that this is dangerous and irresponsible behavior from a man who is now one of only two people with a plausible shot at assuming the most powerful office in the world.
Words matter. What a president says matters. A slip of the tongue can cause an international incident and Trump is nothing but slips of the tongue.
Most inexcusable of all, though, is the response of the alleged leaders and high figures of the Republican Party to Trump’s comments. National security is supposed to be their issue, the big area where the GOP is so much tougher than those lily-livered Democrats. Had a Democrat suggested Russian hackers break into the American government’s computer networks to track down, say, the secret list of members of Dick Cheney’s energy task force, these same Republicans would birth enough cows to make the GOP the world’s number-one producer of dairy products and cow shit.
But the Republican on which their hopes for winning the presidency ride? Meh. Newt Gingrich, who has never heard of a national security issue he couldn’t use to scare the bejesus out of people no matter how far-fetched, dismissed Trump’s comments as a “joke” to which people were overreacting. Rudy Giuliani, fresh off of scaring small children, the emotionally fragile and pets with his screaming diatribe at last week’s Republican convention, implausibly claimed that Trump meant that if Russian hackers already have those 30,000 emails, they should turn them over to the FBI.
Mike Pence released a statement warning that there would be “consequences” if the FBI determines Russia is behind the recent hacking of emails from the Democratic National Committee but otherwise kept quiet. Presumably he still has visions of himself becoming the most powerful vice president in history, shaping policy while a disinterested President Trump is touring his own golf courses.
Paul Ryan, for whom a Trump presidency’s dangers do not outweigh his best shot at slashing taxes and social services and turning America into an Ayn Rand theme park, also had a mild warning for the Russians but was otherwise quiet.
Former Bush press flack Ari Fleischer, who once infamously suggested that anyone opposed to his boss’s invasion of Iraq should watch what they say in public, tried to deflect by suggesting that Hillary Clinton would never give such a wide-ranging press conference as Trump did. To which one could only respond by wiping their brow and saying, “Phew!”
Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign was doubling down on the statement, especially on the candidate’s Twitter account, thus rendering moot all of the above attempts at spinning.
It is not enough that Donald Trump needs to lose this election. He needs to be beaten badly, and the ground salted so that his type of idiocy never rises again, or at least for a few election cycles.