Is Trump Destroying the Air Quality?

Donald Trump

Photo illustration by Thursday Review

Is Trump Destroying the Air Quality?
| published August 9, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff writers

Presidential candidate Donald Trump has lost his top political strategist and adviser as a direct result of a growing storm of controversy over Trump’s latest round of bombastic comments. Trump strategist Roger Stone, a well-known professional among GOP candidates since the early 1980s, resigned after Trump’s remarks turned into a nasty war of words in the hours and days since the first major Republican debate concluded in Cleveland Thursday night.

During that debate, Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly confronted Trump with a list of some of his past statements regarding women, quoting him directly as having characterized women—both as a group and as individuals—as “fat pigs,” “ugly hogs,” “dogs,” and “disgusting animals.” Trump interjected into Kelly’s list a joke that all of those comments had been directed at Rosie O’Donnell, and not at other women. But Kelly went on with her laundry list of Trump insults toward women. She questioned whether someone who would use such language should ever occupy the White House.

Though not denying the words, Trump later said he had not been treated fairly by Kelly or the other Fox News moderators, but the next day escalated his counter-attack, telling ABC News he had no recollection of the words or phrases quoted by Kelly. Later that same day, Trump—speaking of Kelly—told CNN that “there was blood coming out of her eyes…blood coming out of her wherever.” Trump added that he did not respect Kelly as a journalist and no longer respected Fox News as a reporting organization. He also vowed to investigate whether Kelly had manufactured the quotes about women.

But the storm’s power gathered speed and intensity throughout the day. The fallout reached to Atlanta, where the political organization and website Red was hosting a sold-out, full scale candidate forum over the weekend. Many of the Republican candidates were planning to speak at the confab. Red State’s CEO, Erick Erickson, apparently troubled by the ferocity of the storm over Trump’s remarks, publicly rescinded his invitation to Trump to appear at the event, saying that the kind of language being employed by Trump has no place in an election campaign, and stressed that Trump was damaging the GOP brand and the conservative cause by his overtly sexist remarks.

Trump, outraged, called Erickson “a weak and pathetic leader,” and vowed to win despite what Trump suggests is official resistance to his campaign.

On Saturday, Trump’s top political advisor resigned from Trump’s troubled campaign.

“I was proud to have played a role in the launch of your presidential campaign,” Stone said in a letter posted online and in social media messages, “Your message of Make America Great Again harkened back to the Reagan era. Restoring national pride and bringing jobs back to America—your initial and underlying message—is a solid conservative message.”

But Stone went on.

“Unfortunately, the current controversies involving personalities and provocative media fights have reached such a high volume that it has distracted attention from your platform and overwhelmed your core message. I can no longer remain involved in your campaign."

Later in the day, Trump attempted to dispute Stone’s assertion that Stone had resigned voluntarily, redirecting the narrative by saying that he had, in fact, fired Stone.

Stone’s departure adds to the disorganization and disarray in the ranks of Trump’s campaign team, which consists of only a handful of political professionals. Turnover among Trump’s top campaign staffers has been high, and more-or-less continuous. Stone’s departure leaves only about a half dozen full-time staffers as part of Trump’s central campaign command. Though for decades known as a billionaire, Trump famously employs very few actual people on a full time basis, preferring to outsource much of his work as a cost-saving measure, and choosing to manage directly upper-level decisions. Most political analysts suggest that such a business strategy, while intermittently effective in the corporate world, can lead to disaster in political campaigns.

In the meantime, Trump has not backed down from his recent comments—dozens of which have made headlines and spread through the internet and across social media. GOP strategists worry that Trump’s increasingly disrespectful insults and barbs—especially those comments aimed at Latinos and women—may inflict serious damage to the Republican brand. In 2012, Mitt Romney lost to President Barack Obama in part because Romney was unable to woo Latinos and women back into the Republican fold. One of the main strategies the RNC sought to employ in this election cycle was outreach to Latinos, and a narrative more inclusive of women.

During Thursday night’s debate, the other nine candidates made few direct attacks on Trump. The only notable exception was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who blasted Trump for not promising to support the Republican nominee, and for not pledging to defer a third party or independent run for the White House. Most of the other candidates avoided direct confrontations with the businessman and TV personality, and instead stuck to their standard campaign talking points.

But by Saturday night and early Sunday, other Republican hopefuls—some who had been watching helplessly as Trump’s battles with the media and his boisterous words overshadow all other GOP campaign news—began to remove their white gloves and hit Trump hard. The analogy most often deployed by the top strategists of the other 16 candidates is air: Trump is sucking the oxygen from the room by dominating the headlines, social media, and the blogosphere. On Sunday, Trump made much-ballyhooed appearances on at least four of the major network Sunday morning political analysis programs, making a point to explain that he was skipping Fox News for what he deems their unfair treatment of him on Thursday.

Indeed, that Trump automatically earns top billing on shows like Face the Nation and Meet the Press worries people like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee and Dr. Ben Carson. But it is of graver concern for the top staffers and strategists at the Republican National Committee, a team who had publicly vowed to turn the GOP narrative into one of inclusiveness and future generations, not one which drives women and Latinos further from the Grand Old Party’s footprint. Bush, once the party’s presumed front-runner, lamented the Trump Effect at the Red State gathering in Atlanta, and in essence made a call for all in the party to wake up to the dangers posed by Trump’s raw populism.

“Do we want to win?” Bush asked the Red State crowd, “Or do we want to insult 53 percent of the voters?” The stakes for Bush are particularly high, and his once vaunted position as the early fundraising and volunteer leader has been almost entirely supplanted by the 24-hour-a-day media grind which now hangs on Trump’s every word, gesture and deed.

For Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who has seen his once respectable middle-tier placement in the polls take a beating, putting his campaign into danger of being nudged out of the top ten, the risk of Trump remaining in the race poses an existential threat, especially when the only questions asked of Rubio by reporters each day have to do with Trump…explaining Trump, apologizing for Trump, qualifying Trump.

“At this point…we have to focus on our message,” Rubio said on Saturday, “Otherwise my whole campaign we be how do you feel about what Donald Trump said about something? He says something every day.”

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, also in the top tier, became uncharacteristically angry at some reporters over the weekend when the questions tossed toward him seemed entirely steeped in Trump and Trump’s often controversial comments. Huckabee also alluded to the quality of the breathing air in a field overpowered by the colorful Trump.

“I think the rest of us are doing what we’re supposed to do,” Huckabee said, “and that’s focus on getting a message out, which is sometimes hard to do because all the air in the balloon is going to Donald Trump right now.”

Trump’s outsize presence in the crowded field has had ironic effects. Chris Christie, once considered a crypto-bully and the most bombastic and gregarious of the pack, seems positively mild-mannered and statesmanlike with Trump in the room. Rand Paul, the quasi-libertarian and self-described not-your-grandpa’s-Republican, is left with little room to gain traction from his non-traditional approach to conservatism, not as long as Trump thunders loudly and shatters the narrative. Bush’s once formidable advantage in fund-raising (and the sometimes thinly-veiled import that such heavy cash-infusion means going head-to-head with Clinton’s goal of raising—and spending—$1.5 billion), means little to Trump or his legion of followers as he openly brags of his fortune. Ben Carson’s thoughtful, soft-spoken campaign based on the surgeon’s deeply felt moral beliefs gets drowned out by the daily storm surge of Trump’s latest politically-incorrect words and entanglements.

Trump’s war of words with the conservative Fox News reveals how troubling for the GOP brand the current conversation has become, and how that once noble and seemingly simple goal of the Republican Party thinkers to extend outreach to minorities and women has become a much greater challenge than ever imagined.

Trump is currently leading the GOP field by a substantial margin, though experts are deeply divided as to whether his most recent clashes with reporters and Fox News commentators will damage his poll numbers, or actually help those numbers to rise.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Trump’s War of Words on Women; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; August 8, 2015.

First GOP Debate: Playing the Trump Card; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; August 7, 2015.