Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Opinion Donald Trump is very confused. (Dana Milbank, WaPo, January 23, 2024)

"There's a sucker born every minute," P.T. Barnum allegedly said, and many of them voted for DONALD JOHN TRUMP.  DJT & Co. remind me of the movie, "Idiocracy.'

Opinion Donald Trump is very confused

Former president Donald Trump delivers remarks at a campaign rally in Manchester, N.H. on Jan. 20. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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MANCHESTER, N.H. — This New Hampshire primary, like the Iowa caucuses before it, was a dud, with no real contest on either side. But that is not to say it was without value.

For New Hampshire showed us, beyond all doubt, that Donald Trump is very, very confused.

In October, in a speech in Derry, N.H., he informed his audience that Viktor Orban, the strongman who rules Hungary, is “the leader of Turkey.”

In November, in a speech in Claremont, N.H., he advised the crowd that the current leader of the United States is “President Obama.” (He later claimed this mistake, which he made on several other occasions, was actually him being “sarcastic” — get it?)

Then, on Friday night, at a rally in Concord, N.H., Trump confused his Republican primary opponent, Nikki Haley, with former House speaker Nancy Pelosi. He claimed that Haley was “in charge of security” during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, that she refused all of his offers of help, and that she destroyed the evidence.

Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Trump’s own U.N. ambassador who was neither in office nor in Washington on Jan. 6, responded: “They’re saying he got confused … When you’re dealing with the pressures of a presidency, we can’t have someone else that we question whether they’re mentally fit to do this.”

I went to Trump’s rally on Saturday night in Manchester, where he didn’t address the Haley-Pelosi mix-up but assured his supporters that he “took a cognitive test” and “I aced it.” He has previously boasted of his ability to identify an image of a “whale” on said assessment, but, as The Post’s Ashley Parker and Dan Diamond pointed out, there is no such marine mammal on any version of the test. (Maybe he was being “sarcastic” about the whale, too.)

But I listened carefully to Trump that night — no easy feat because he went on for 100 minutes — and noticed that, even though his text was fed to him through a teleprompter, he told many of the same stories over and over again, repeating some lines almost word for word in the same speech, with no apparent awareness that he had done so.

Unlike so much of what Trump does, his memory lapses aren’t disqualifying — only hypocritical. Trump routinely calls President Biden, 81, “cognitively impaired,” but the 77-year-old Trump seems also to have lost a step. He mangles names and words — a visiting foreign dignitary becomes a “foreign dignity” — and occasionally just talks nonsense.

Many in the news media don’t make much of this; while they focus on Biden’s mental acuity, in Trump’s case they rightly focus more on his authoritarian outbursts and gratuitous racism. Last week, for example, he bastardized Haley’s Indian name and falsely suggested she’s disqualified from the presidency because her parents weren’t citizens.

In fairness, the Trump of four and eight years ago was also plenty erratic. But a closer look at his public performances — his courtroom outbursts and on the stump — suggests the very stable genius is off his game. He’s propped up by a very professional campaign, which he didn’t have before, and more insulated from questions and spontaneous exchanges. Yet he’s still saying and doing the sort of things that, had Biden done them, Republicans would cry: dementia!

“Each drug dealer kills on average 500 people during his or her lifetime,” he informed his audience early in his speech.

“Each dealer is responsible for the deaths during their lives of over 500 people or more,” he informed them late in his speech.

He told them early in the speech about Hunter Biden’s “laptop from hell, right, where the 51 intelligence agents said, oh, no, it was from Russia.”

He told them late in the speech that “Hunter Biden’s laptop from hell was Russian disinformation,” according to “51 intelligence agents.”

During the Trump presidency, he declared, “Hamas, Hezbollah, they didn’t have any money because Iran had no money to give them.”

Later, he announced: “Iran was broke under President Trump. They didn’t have the money to fund Hamas, Hezbollah.”

Near the top of his speech he vowed to end “Biden’s insane electric vehicle mandate,” because the vehicles “don’t go far. That’s true: They don’t go far.”

Near the bottom of the speech, he complained that “we are a nation whose leaders are demanding all-electric cars, despite the fact that they don’t go far.”

Some stories were so good he told them three times.

“We’ll end up in a world war because of this guy,” he said of Biden.

Later: “We have the serious danger of going into a World War III.”

Still later: “We’re going to end up in World War III with this guy running.”

This was somewhat of an improvement for Trump, who in September warned an audience that, under Biden, we will soon be “in World War II.”

Trump similarly told and retold a tale about Biden’s competence. “He’s a threat to democracy,” Trump said, for “a couple of reasons. But, you know, the first reason why, he’s grossly incompetent.”

“He’s a threat to democracy,” Trump repeated later.

And again, still later: “Joe Biden is a threat to democracy for a number of reasons,” primarily because “he’s grossly incompetent.”

Sounds as though somebody needs a nap.

And it wasn’t just one off night. At a rally the next night, Trump mispronounced the name of Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), his devoted ally who had just come to campaign for him in New Hampshire. He mentioned the name of a pollster — his pollster — Tony Fabrizio, with an Italian accent, then asked, “Is he a relation to Al Capone?”

It’s perhaps easy to lose all this in the grotesque carnival that is a Trump rally.

There’s the abuse offered by Trump, his warm-up acts and his supporters whose shouted epithets get woven into the performance: CNN’s Anderson Cooper is a “pervert.” Nikki Haley is a “birdbrain,” a “globalist fool” and “Hillary Haley” backed by “radical left communists.” Ron DeSantis got “a new pair of high heels.”

There are the gratuitous, extravagant lies. There were but 4,500 souls in the arena, which has a maximum capacity of 12,000, but Trump told them they “set every record” for attendance. Turnout in the Iowa Republican caucus was only 15 percent, the lowest in years, but one lawmaker Trump called onstage announced that Iowa just voted “record numbers.” Trump falsely complained that the state’s anti-Trump Republican governor, Chris Sununu, “allows Democrats to vote in the Republican primary” to help Haley; state law has long allowed independents (not Democrats) to vote in either primary.

There are the barely veiled appeals to white nationalism. A video played on the big screen before Trump takes the stage had the tagline: “Make America Great For Us Again.” Of his political opponents, Trump told the crowd: “This nation does not belong to them. This nation belongs to you. This is your home. This is your heritage.”

Above all there was his apocalyptic description of America, now recited over orchestral music. Trump told his followers: “We are a failing nation. We are a nation that has the highest inflation in 50 years, where banks are collapsing. … We are a Third World nation. … Fake news is all you get, and they are indeed the enemy of the people. … We are a nation that, in many ways has become a joke. … We are a nation whose economy is collapsing into a cesspool of ruin, whose supply chain is broken, whose stores are not stocked.”

Maybe he just couldn’t remember that, the day before, the stock market had hit a record and consumer sentiment had seen the largest two-month jump in more than 30 years. Perhaps he forgot that inflation had been tamed, that supply-chain problems eased long ago, that unemployment is near historic lows.

“I feel my mind is stronger now than it was 25 years ago,” he told the crowd, promising them: “I’ll let you know when I go bad. I really think I’ll be able to tell you.”

There, there now. I’m sure you will.

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) appears for a Nashua Rotary Club meeting at the Nashua Country Club on Monday in Nashua, N.H. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Media organizations reprised the farce they performed last week for the Iowa caucuses, flying hundreds of journalists up here to cover New Hampshire’s grand quadrennial contest, because this is what they have always done. But there was nothing much at stake here this year, so we crowded into auditoriums and restaurants, talking among ourselves, competing to interview voters about a race whose outcome was already known.

Trump had the nomination locked up before the first vote was cast. DeSantis bowed to the inevitable and quit on Sunday afternoon. That left only Haley, who trailed Trump by 9 percentage points in early returns. Even had she prevailed here, she had no realistic path to the nomination.

The Democratic side was even less interesting. There were no delegates at stake and Biden wasn’t even on the ballot. The Democratic Party, to give states with more racial diversity a say, demoted Iowa and New Hampshire.

Into this void stepped Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), whose symbolic bid for the Democratic nomination serves mainly to undermine Biden — much to the delight of Trump. “Let’s see how an unknown congressman — nobody ever heard of this guy — let’s see how he does,” Trump said at his rally. “He might beat Biden. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

With about 30 other journalists who had nothing better to do, I went to Phillips’s event at a fish restaurant in Hampton, N.H., where the candidate bashed Biden, bashed the Democratic Party and threatened to run as a third-party candidate in November.

He told the crowd he was campaigning in New Hampshire “to remind this entire country that what was done to all of you is one of the most egregious affronts to democracy I’ve ever known in my lifetime, initiated extensively by the president of the United States.”

It’s hard to overstate just how cynical this is. The Democratic Party didn’t commit any “affront” to democracy — it merely decided that New Hampshire, which is 93 percent White and only 2 percent Black can’t always have priority over other states.

Phillips is playing on New Hampshire’s parochialism to affirm Trump’s absurd accusation that Biden is the one threatening democracy. Phillips told his audience the Democrats’ move was “horrifying,” “unjust” and “sickening.” He said that other Democrats “know it is sickening, they know it is illegal, and they know it is an affront to democracy.”

Or maybe other Democrats actually believe that voters of color — nearly 40 percent of the Democratic electorate — should have an early voice in the selection of a nominee.

Asked whether he would run on the No Labels ticket or for another third party in November, Phillips added: “I am seeing the DNC employ practices that are not just antidemocratic, but I think despicable and dangerous and maybe even illegal. So if they are going to deny the opportunity to have a competition, I will keep going.”

He said he would run as a third-party candidate only if it would help defeat Trump, but there’s no scenario in which having another Democrat in the race in November would do anything but help Trump.

Many Democrats wish Biden hadn’t run for reelection, but he isrunning. Were the president to pull out now, the Democratic nominee would almost certainly be Vice President Harris, who Democrats believewould likely fare worse against Trump. That’s why Phillips’s campaign of ego does nothing but weaken Biden.

But Phillips, Trump-style, accused his fellow Democrats of a dark conspiracy against both him and No Labels, wondering aloud about “what is really going on.”

He said Democrats are trying to protect their privilege, their prestige, their proximity, their power and, frankly, putting their principles below their self-preservation.”

It simply couldn’t possibly be that they see Biden as a better candidate than Phillips.

His supporters liked the message. “Dean in Chicago!” shouted a man wearing a “Keen for Dean” button. A guy in the front row waved a poster announcing: “Joe wrote you off. Why write him in?”

Phillips accused his Democratic congressional colleagues of “lying” and said he quit his (low-level) Democratic leadership post in the House “because it was so incongruent with my principles.” But the only principle clearly in evidence during the fish-restaurant talk was self-reverence. It takes an impressive level of narcissism to proclaim oneself to be the only person with integrity, while assuming that his colleagues — all of them — are acting in bad faith.

“It’s not that easy running against your party,” poor Phillips lamented. But he was pleased that many of my Republican colleagues have been so generous with their reach-out over the last 90 days,” he said, offering him “birthday wishes” and affirmations such as “go get him” and “love the courage.”

And now Trump himself is cheering the Democrat on. Maybe Phillips should pause his vanity campaign long enough to ask himself why.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, accompanied by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, speaks at a polling place at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, N.H., on Tuesday. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Sununu, New Hampshire’s governor, has been going everywhere with Haley to drum up support. “This is great!” he screamed as he took the stage in Exeter, N.H., Sunday night, a few hours after DeSantis dropped out. “A little while ago there were 13 candidates in the race and now there are only two.” This, Sununu said, was because “Nikki Haley came along and wiped them all out.”

That’s one hypothesis. Another, with rather more evidence, is that Trump wiped them all out and Haley is the last one still holding on, by a thread.

“Can you hear that sound?” Haley asked the cheering crowd of 1,000 when she followed Sununu onto the stage in a high school auditorium. “That’s the sound of a two-person race.”

If so, I like the sound. It is almost certainly too little and too late, but Haley is giving Republicans one last chance to turn back from the abyss. While Trump embraces the apocalypse and Phillips sings a song of self, Haley is the only candidate in New Hampshire talking sense.

“I have seen all the commercials that you have seen and, God bless him, I have watched Trump’s temper tantrums at his rallies,” she says at campaign stops here. “But everything he has said has been a lie. And if you’ve got to lie to win, you don’t deserve to win, right?”

She lists just a few of his lies, about her, about taxes, Social Security, China, the debt. She asks her audiences: “Do you want to sit there and wonder if he’s telling us the truth all the time?”

If I squinted my eyes just right in the Exeter auditorium, I could almost see it working for Haley. There was a bank of 20 TV and video cameras on tripods, 20 more still cameras in front of the stage and a loud, passionate group of Haley supporters. But it wasn’t clear that many of them were Republicans.

When Judge Judy, introducing Haley, made a disapproving reference to Trump, a guy in the crowd shouted: “Put Trump in prison!” When Haley made her usual comment about Biden’s declining faculties, the crowd reacted with a displeased “oooh.” When she said that it’s not reasonable to have only electric cars by 2033, somebody shouted: “Why not?” Her usual line that “we won’t survive” four more years of Trump’s chaos brought huge applause.

Haley, reading the room, skipped her usual complaint about trans athletes.

At one point, a lone demonstrator raised a banner in front of the stage and was led out without a fuss. “I am always happy to see a protester,” Haley said, “because my husband and our military men and women sacrifice every day for them to be able to have the right to do that.”

It was a refreshing alternative to the DeSantis campaign, which leveled similar demonstrators with flying tackles, and the Trump campaign, which evicts them roughly while the candidate leads thousands in jeering.

Then again, the entire Haley candidacy is a refreshing alternative. A healthy Republican Party would nominate her to the presidency, and she would handily beat Biden. But this is not a healthy Republican Party, and that isn’t going to happen.

Opinion by 
Dana Milbank is an opinion columnist for The Washington Post. He sketches the foolish, the fallacious and the felonious in politics. His new book is “The Destructionists: The 25-Year Crackup of the Republican Party” (Doubleday).

1 comment:

Joe said...

He's delusional. He thought he won the 2020 election. Now he thinks he's been attacked unjustly when in reality he wracked up 90+ felonies because he felt entitled to do whatever he wanted regardless of consequences. He's crazy.