It would have been a welcome surprise for Trump to break with Woodrow Wilson’s precedent of making the SOTU a spoken address to the Congress.
When Ted Cruz quit the presidential primary on Tuesday not long after the polls closed in Indiana, it was startling. Even Donald Trump, in his victory speech that night in New York, appeared startled to see himself the presumptive Republican nominee.
“Democrats seem to be bouncing back and forth between glee and panic,” wrote an analyst at fivethirtyeight.com. There are two main reasons for that.
One is that he may win in November.
The other is expressed in the comment of a prominent Trump supporter who, in an interview conducted by another Trump supporter, said: “Do you realize our candidate is mental?”
We all realize it. All except the candidate, that is. “Mental” like a fox, Ann Coulter could have added for good measure.
Over the last several months, contributors to Law and Liberty have been sharing their insights about the Republican Party, and about how the party’s failure to live up to its principles landed it in its current state. To listen to Mark Levin on the radio these days is to hear a Tea Party stalwart finally come out and say that the movement he helped found to reform the GOP got hijacked by Trump. “Mental” like a fox and oh, so cynical; the cynicism has been key to the hijacking.
Here is an example. Making a stand against political correctness in a hotbed of political correctness—a college or university—might be considered brave. Tea Party supporters, and a lot of other Americans who are tired of being told they are bigots by bien pensant liberals, would warm to such an effort. The big Trump rally held at the University of Illinois at Chicago wasn’t brave, though. It was reckless.
There were many announcements ahead of that rally, by Moveon.org and other leftwing groups, that they were getting ready to rumble at the UIC Pavilion that day, March 11 (which somehow seems a lifetime ago). Surely, you say, responding by backing out and giving the social justice warriors a heckler’s veto would have shown weakness. Candidates ought not let their movements be affected by political intimidation. But that would only apply if the movements were part of normal partisan politics in the first place. This wasn’t.
It was a curious choice of venue. If your presidential campaign takes you to Chicagoland, and you are a Republican, you hold a rally where Republicans are. That’s west of the city—suburbs like Schaumburg, Lombard, Glen Ellyn, maybe as far east as Oak Brook. If your goal, on the other hand, is to drive the Left crazy, you show up in the city—say, at a campus three miles from where throngs of demonstrators had recently flooded Michigan Avenue and shut it down after video was released of a white police officer shooting an African American teen named Laquan McDonald 16 times in 13 seconds from 11 feet away.
Trump endangered people—his supporters and others—by rallying there. There was something to be gained, though. The candidate’s dramatic last-minute cancellation amid fisticuffs inside the pavilion had the student activists cheering but, as an intelligent comment by a Trump supporter makes clear, it was a “win-win” for leftwing bullies and for the candidate himself.
This Trump supporter had said beforehand: “In light of what ‘students’ have been protesting lately, I predict that this demonstration will only help boost Trump’s appeal.”
His prediction proved right. March 11 set the pattern. It has been working quite well for Trump-as-martyr-to-the-First-Amendment. Days ago we saw the barricade-busting rabble that stormed the GOP convention in Burlingame, California. More is in store, and likely with even greater fervor now that it is basically a Trump versus Hillary Clinton race.
The party would be expected to unite against Mrs. Clinton now. That’s what should happen at this point in a presidential election. But: “This election isn’t about the Republican Party, it’s about me,” he said in an interview published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal.
“Mr. Trump said his mission wasn’t to change the party,” the Journal’s Janet Hook and Monica Langley write. “He also doesn’t appear interested in whether the GOP can muster the kind of institutional support its presidential nominee normally receives. ‘I’d rather have a unified Republican party, but I’m not sure that’s as necessary to the voters, to see people getting along,’ he said. ‘They are voting for a person, not a party.’ ”
In his moment of triumph, on Tuesday night, Trump let the world in on what it would be like to start “getting along” with the nominee if you were a high-ranking member of the party who was not with him before Indiana.
It was a big moment. He even seemed moved by Cruz’s retiring from the field. “I didn’t expect it,” he said. Then he touched on the rough tactics that are sometimes used in politics—by others, he implied, not by him—and it was then that the jubilation one would naturally feel on such a night kind of went . . . well, mental.
Donald Trump hadn’t been taken seriously by the Republicans, to be sure, or by the pundits. It was a lonely road to the nomination. We were looking at a man who, in his mind, had been done wrong, and who was now going to settle some scores. With whom? He withheld their names. But these individuals now join the list of those he’s bragged about manipulating: Hillary Clinton, who he said had to attend his wedding because he made a large donation to the Clinton Foundation, and Mitt Romney, whom he graphically described as being beholden to him for support in 2012.
“Many, many people are calling that you wouldn’t even believe,” he said on Tuesday night. “The media, the press, they wouldn’t believe. People that have said the worst things about me. I’ve never had things said about me like this. You know, in my businesses I’ve always been very respected. People didn’t talk to me this way. But in politics it’s easy. The worst things. And they’re calling now . . . saying we’d love to get on the train, the Trump train, they call it.”
The man has just pulled off one of the most amazing feats in American political history. And here he is monologuing like Syndrome in The Incredibles about those lining up behind him in his moment of victory.
He went on:
“And I actually spoke to one today, and—who was vicious, I mean this guy was unbelievable—and I said, I love having you, and, you know, I think it’s terrific but after what you said about me, how can you possibly join our team? And he said Mr. Trump, don’t even think about it, don’t worry about it. There’ll be no problem. In other words, he’s a politician. There’s no problem. I would have had a hard time. But we have a lot of people coming on, lots of Congressmen.”
His supporters responded to this excursus by jeering in disgust at these new supporters, at their utter baseness. It seemed to please him.