When you’ve spent hours reading, thinking, and reacting to the many, many shenanigans of Donald Trump, at a certain point the incredulity wears off and you’re left wondering: Donald, what the hell is going on? Given his current performance in the polls and the ship-jumping tendency of more and more Republicans, trying to objectively assess his latest uproar — seemingly joking that Second Amendment advocates should attack Hillary Clinton — can be a daunting challenge. The readiest explanations are familiar: 1) Trump is a loose cannon. 2) Trump gets off on getting his crowds riled up. 3) Trump literally doesn’t think before he speaks.
But what if Trump’s gaffes and mishaps aren’t purely accidents at all? Could Trump be committing political self-sabotage? Has he lost so much interest and faith in his campaign that he will do anything to spice it up — and by "spice it up" I mean lightly-veiled insinuations that his opponent should be assassinated?
Granted, this may sound like the most extreme of conspiracy theories and part of this is written in a tongue-and-cheek way. However. Trump's comments are so horrifying and bizarre, it can be hard to decipher if the Republican nominee is acting rationally.
As we’ve shifted into the (granted, seemingly endless) home-stretch of the campaign, the demographics of his natural audience has shifted: the 14 million popular votes which were sufficient to secure him the nomination are less than a quarter of the votes needed to match Mitt Romney’s popular vote result in 2012. General election electorates are much more moderate than their primary counterparts, and though it seems like it was briefly willing to forgive and/or forget some of Trump’s early misdemeanors, the gaffes happening in real-time cannot be ignored.
So, Trump tries to go straight. He goes to the Detroit Economic Club and delivers a speech off a teleprompter which, while it might be intellectual garbage, at least looked presidential. But he also looked disconnected. The only moment in his speech where you could catch a wistful glimmer in his eye was when he made a dig at a protester being escorted out of the hall: “The Bernie Sanders people had far more energy and spirit.”
Clearly, that energy and spirit is lacking from the more “presidential” campaign — and maybe Trump misses that? So. when Trump finds himself in front of a fun crowd and starts getting them going about all the things Clinton will do that they will hate, without the steadying effect of a teleprompter he makes an offhand comment that whips everyone (including the media) into a furious Trumpnado, with Donald at the center. It’s instant gratification, and makes him feel that intimate connection to his audience that got him where he is today.
But it is not sane, rational behavior. It is not strategic or smart or politically healthy. In many ways, it is a political cry for help, though to whom it is unclear: the GOP? His advisers? The American people writ large? Please, he seems to be saying, please don’t make me go through with this.
Based on his recent polling, it sounds like, at last, the voters might be listening.
Image: Bustle/Dawn Foster