Preventing Trumpmageddon: Why a Donald Trump reboot still doesn't matter

Even if Trump can't bring himself under control, our horse race-obsessed media still give him a fighting chance

Published August 9, 2016 11:59AM (EDT)

Donald Trump   (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
Donald Trump (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

As horrifying as it is to hear Donald Trump blurt an endless roster of terrible things, there's no way around the fact that we all secretly hope he keeps going -- that he continues his relentless Twitter trolling and word-salady assemblages of repetitive bromides-and-bullshit until his campaign crashes into the side of a mountain.

Admit it. Trump continuing to be Trump is good for everyone mainly because, at long last, his poll numbers are dropping precipitously as a result, rather than during the primary season when his numbers frustratingly jumped with each new controversy. Don't tell Trump, but the good old days of the GOP primaries are over and it's abundantly obvious that his default style might not work in a general election setting, mainly because voters have snapped into the realization that only Hillary Clinton stands between us and Trumpmaggedon, complete with the potential for the inexplicably casual deployment of nuclear weapons. The longer he acts like the clown dictator we all know and despise, the better his chances are of losing the election in an electoral college landslide not seen since, at least, 1992.

So, by all means, keep going.

But according to Sunday's Wall Street Journal, Trump is in the midst of a "reboot." You might've noticed the reports last week of an intervention by the GOP to plug the campaign's sucking-chest-wound to prevent further damage to both Trump and especially the down-ballot races that'd inevitably deliver the U.S. Senate back into the hands of the Democrats, if not both chambers of Congress. Then, on Friday, Trump retracted his remarks about a video he claimed to have seen on Fox News but which was never aired. His tweets have dissipated somewhat and, throughout the weekend, his rally remarks were mostly scripted. On Monday, Trump delivered an economic policy address, which was hastily assembled by his team of non-economist advisers, many of which are named "Steve" for reasons that only Trump understands.

Trump's consigliere, Paul Manafort, meanwhile, told Fox News Sunday, "We’re comfortable we’ll get the agenda and the narrative of the campaign back on where it belongs."

"Back where it belongs?" This suggests Trump held a disciplined policy-driven posture in the first place.

In a sane world, it shouldn't matter whether there's a reboot or not. How many seriously horrendous things has Trump said in the past week alone? MSNBC's Chris Hayes has been performing a vital public service by compiling an ongoing list of Trump's greatest hits, of which here are the most recent ten:

1) Trump hopes the economy gets bad fast to place blame.
2) "I always wanted to get the purple heart."
3) Hopes Ivanka would quit her job if she's sexually harassed.
4) Attacks against the Kahn family.
5) Says Putin's not in Ukraine.
6) Lies about NFL letter regarding the debate schedule.
7) Criticizes fire marshals. (One of those marshals rescued him from a malfunctioning elevator.)
8) Calls retired Marine a "failed general."
9) Invited Russia intelligence agencies to hack Hillary's emails.
10) Sought work visas for workers at his Mar-a-lago resort.

Again, this is just from the past week, culminating in an electoral map that, at one point, showed North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia slipping into blue-state territory, along with renewed discussions about the potential for Texas and South Carolina to turn blue as well. So, the GOP believes that by shifting gears now, Trump should absolutely climb back into the lead in spite of everything he's done and said for the last 14 months plus.

In other words, they're pushing an "Etch-a-Sketch" narrative. Well-Behaved Trump should delete any memory of Clown Dictator Trump, they say. Remarkably, though, it could actually work. We live in a climate now in which Trump can expectorate a toxic slagheap of awfulness every other hour and it ultimately won't matter as long as he "reboots" his campaign in August. It's worth repeating that no other presidential candidate in the history of the republic has ever been allowed to get away with one-half-of-one-percent of the things Trump's been allowed to blurt.

In a normal election, Trump would've been hectored out of the race months ago. But this cartoonish reality-show celebrity has been afforded second chance after second chance, mainly by his cult-followers but also by the political press, which failed to even take him seriously as a candidate until earlier this year, even though polls showed him seizing the nomination as far back as last October. And now, we can fully expect another second chance, as if none of the above ever occurred. If previous election narratives are any indication, it's entirely possible that the Trump reboot will be enough to force his numbers to roll upward again as cable news and other observers praise Trump for having the discipline to reset his campaign.

As for his derangement-suffering supporters, Trump can do whatever the hell he wants just as long as he appoints anti-woman justices to the Supreme Court. In this regard, the GOP would've nominated the corpse from "Weekend At Bernie's" if it meant blocking the emergence of a liberal majority on the Supreme Court. As long as his people stick with him, and as long as undecideds and leaners shift back toward Trump, the cable news people will simply use that as fuel for a "Trump surge" narrative, reflecting shifting popular attitudes rather than continuing to inform the public that Trump is "nukes-curious" and therefore represents an existential threat to the world.

Consequently, his list of trespasses will be all but deleted from memory. The Clinton campaign, along with Democratic voters in social media and elsewhere will continue to remind the world of the various Trump atrocities, and we should all hope it continues to stick in the face of Trump's unprecedented latitude to violate all rules of decency, respectability and discipline. It's entirely possible, despite continued pressure, that he'll emerge from August unscathed anyway.

One last thing. There's such a thing as beating up a villain so badly that observers begin to feel sorry for the villain. It's entirely possible that Trump will gain a point or two simply because some voters will begin to feel sorry for him. It's bizarre to contemplate it, but it's not impossible.

By Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.


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2016 Donald Trump 2016 Election 2016 Hillary Clinton Captain Khan Paul Manafort