You may remember reading a story that ends on a complete surprise, yet as you reflect on the details of the plot, you realize it makes perfect sense. In fact, the shock of the conclusion echoes backward, causing all of the revealing details to retell the tale with fresh urgency.
I have a sense that’s where we are with the rise and fall of Donald J. Trump’s political chimera.
For months we’ve watched aghast as he blustered through a remarkably inept and scattered field of White House hopefuls whose biggest mistake came in failing to take him seriously enough to challenge him directly. Had any of them done their homework, they would have had the ammunition to demolish Trump’s claims of business success – the sort of thing Warren Buffett is doing with his quip that a monkey throwing darts to pick stocks would have had a 150 percent return on his investment at a time when Trump’s namesake company lost 90 cents on the dollar. They could have pointed out all the years Trump paid little or no federal income tax, all the contractors and would-be students he stiffed, his string of failed businesses, from Trump Airlines and Trump Casinos to Trump University and Trump Vodka.
But they didn’t. Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio all squandered their time and treasuries trying to take down each other while letting Trump skip through unscathed.
Even then, though, behind his bullying and bluster, Trump’s thin skin was showing as his Achilles heel. (Sorry about the mixed metaphor, though it rather overlaps.) If only they’d baited him rather than wither in his sarcastic fire. Shown some backbone and muscle. Some true resolve. If only they’d been courageous when it counted.
Many Americans have been appalled by the string of slurs and outrageous – patently, factually false – statements Trump made heading into Cleveland, alienating group after group, yet nothing has pierced that flood of hatred and bile until now.
I’m speaking, of course, about Khizr Khan and his wife, Ghazala.
Much will be written in analyzing how their steel-willed bearing, self-discipline, self-control, authentic emotion, and pointedly brief statements pricked the aura of assumed invincibility around Trump. Daily now, he has burst forth with new brazen volleys that turn back on him as that shell collapses. How many of us are rising each morning with a morbid obsession to learn of his latest idiotic blunder in what’s looking like a death by a thousand self-inflicted cuts? Historians will likely view these few days as a turning point not unlike that at Gettysburg in the Civil War.
Remember, especially, how much the Khans differ from Trump when it comes to character.
Together, they’ve turned the controversy from any debate over right-or-left political issues to Trump’s utter lack of moral integrity – his basic nature of “undisguised sadism” as the Wall Street Journal’s Brett Stephens has written, even the “permanent dishonor” he’s bringing upon the Republican Party.
As I was saying about that table-turning flash, this is it. Everything Trump had apparently evaded is now rising anew, and everywhere he turns, there’s a fresh flank to face. One by one, new commanders are leading their charge. Just look at how Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, Eric Cuban deflate Trump’s capabilities in business. We have military and their families lining up on their own, and a four-star general who knows far more than Trump about foreign policy. Add to that former secretaries of state along with the specter of Trump’s Russian shadow. As for “law and order”? His court cases and fear of releasing his tax returns suggest a crook. The public flight of Republican bigwigs is just starting, largely on the character issue. You can add to that a growing chorus of offended women and minorities. Put another way, Trump’s spinning and trapped. He’s finally vulnerable and wounded.
Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s finished. Any number of things can come up between now and November 8. Even Gettysburg was far from the final days of the Civil War.
For anti-abortion voters, this has already been an especially troubling election, one they see as having to choose between the lesser of two evils. Or more accurately, among four – they have no advocate at the head of a ticket in this race. Can Mike Pence keep them in the Republican camp? We’ll see.
Another factor to consider is Gary Johnson and whether he can woo dissatisfied conservatives and pragmatic Main Street Republicans to his Libertarian ticket as a refuge. To do so, he’ll have to focus his firepower on Trump rather than Clinton and establish himself as something other than a pot-smoking, mountain-climbing lightweight. Would enough Republicans, convinced that a vote for Trump is already a lost cause, be willing to cast their ballot elsewhere as a matter of conscience – of registering their protest? This may be the Libertarians’ golden moment, if they can seize it. Otherwise, they face fading into the sunset or the dust, depending.
As for Jill Stein? She seems to be Trump’s last, best chance as of now.