It’s official, we’ve reached peak Eagleton.
I’ve been holding off on making the declaration but the fifty national defense experts that flailed Donald J. Trump in a public denouncement that claimed he “lacks the character, values and experience” and that he “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being” left no room for charitable debate. They added, “[Trump] would be the most reckless president in American history.” It has not been since the George McGovern campaign of 1972 that the American voters have had such credible doubt as to a candidate’s mental capacity. It was only hours after first announcing Missouri Senator, Thomas Eagleton, as his running mate when it came out that McGovern’s new right hand was certifiably barmy. In a lot of ways, McGovern and Eagleton typify both Donald Trump and his running mate, Indiana Governor, Mike Pence.
In his seminal, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, Hunter Thompson describes that populist candidate, George McGovern’s, selection of Vice President was “merely tossing a few bones to the demoralized party bosses who knew they were about to get steamrolled.” While he may have radically Left for even his own party, McGovern was a populist candidate that upset the Establishment wing just as Trump has the GOP. Extremely Conservative, Mike Pence is a similar appeasement to the likes of McConnell and Ryan. “Eagleton was exactly the kind of VP candidate that Muskie or Humphrey would have chosen,” Thompson writes, “a harmless neo-liberal Rotarian nebbish from one of the border states, who presumably won’t make waves.” Swap “liberal” for “conservative” and you have the Pence pick in a nutshell.
Trump also borrows from Eagleton in that it’s become accepted knowledge that he is decidedly less than stable. Washington Post headlines broke the news on a Wednesday afternoon in ‘72, “Eagleton Reveals Illness: Hospitalized Three Times in ‘60’s For ‘Fatigue’” The headlines were being generous as his treatments were later revealed to have included electroconvulsive shock therapy (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest territory). Thompson recalled, “I left immediately for Custer, driving at top speed in a rebuilt Hudson Hornet. About four hours later, less than twenty miles from the 12,000 foot summit of Loveland Pass, the Hornet developed a fire in its electrical system and I was forced to abandon it. By that time I had already heard on the radio that Eagleton had left for Hawaii and McGovern had gone into seclusion.”
In his defense, questions of Trump’s sanity lack the medical certification that Eagleton possessed, but the sentiment is baked into the perceptions American voters have of the current Republican nominee. Where Eagleton’s crisis broke overnight, Trump’s circumstantial descent into mania has been on display for over a year, which makes for a more substantial and lasting argument. What started as an amusing aside to many GOP voters has become a terrifying constant. The concern that he is unhinged, racist, and/or an “unwitting agent of the Russian Federation” as ex-CIA director, Mike Morrell, put it, is voiced by the steady stream of Republican officials that have publically disowned their Party’s nominee on nearly daily basis.
While I feel the polls will settle on both ends, with the candidates seeing a tighter race in November, it is empirically impossible for Trump to win by running the same campaign he has been. This goes beyond staying off Twitter for more than forty-eight hours (FYI: he hasn’t. At the time of writing this, Trump’s called the Mayor of Baltimore a “joke”, dismissed Mike Morrell as a “lightweight” and a “flunky”, reposted Drudge Report conspiracy theories, and wrote “The media is going crazy. They totally distort so many things on purpose. Crimea, nuclear, “the baby” and so much more. Very dishonest!” as well as this doozy that was instantly discredited across the board, “Many people are saying that the Iranians killed the scientist who helped the U.S. because of Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails.”) All of which, during the umpteenth promised “pivot” that the campaign will be undergoing.
The screws are tightening on the man-baby that would be King. Trump is tanking in just about every single national poll you can find, most by double digits. The state polls are even worse. Without rehashing past analysis, if Clinton wins with North Carolina and Georgia or just Florida alone, it will be game, set and match (this, presuming she holds her blue locks). It is this pressure that saw Trump change tact by reading off of notes and offering stilted endorsements to in-party critics like Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte, despite his public snubbing just a week prior.
Apparently following the famed campaign strategy of “I’m rubber and you’re glue”, first devised in the back Mrs. Filby’s third grade classroom, Trump’s latest damage control to concerns over his mental fitness has not been to prove doubters wrong by a streak of focused and disciplined policy statements, but rather to lob the exact accusations back at his opponent. Trump seems to think that the potency in the argument waged against him is in the literal words and not their disturbing import. While Trump claimed Hillary Clinton is “unhinged” and “brainwashed” and “not all there” in remarks earlier this week, he seems to be overlooking the fact that she has thirty years in the public spotlight operating at a near reptilian level of efficiency and calculation. Whether you agree with her policies or go fishing with Ken Starr and Trey Gowdy every other Sunday, there is nothing loose or unpredictable in the construction of Hillary Clinton.
These are the acts of failing campaign and it’s hard to fault Trump for it. He’s doing anything he can to keep his head above water at this point. Take his vaunted Economics speech he delivered to room full of business bigwigs in Detroit earlier this week. Reading from prepared statements with all the familiar ease that a border collie plays the upright bass, Trump is the D student who comes to the science fair with a project his parents clearly stayed up all night doing for him. At times during the speech, Trump seemed more concerned courting potential Bernie Sanders holdouts, to the discomfort of the gathered who sat on their hands during his populist anti-trade and anti-TPP rhetoric. A Republican candidate promises to cut taxes… shocker, right? Focusing on the Estate Tax as Trump did, which only affects people who have made over five million dollars, is a penny ante straw man devised to stall for time on a policy speech that was light on actual policy and heavy on promises. His Detroit remarks were interrupted over a dozen times by protestors. The last man to be escorted out regaled the Republican candidate, jeering, “Tiny Hands, Tiny Hands!” To his credit, Trump ignored them largely, determined to stay on message. While this is an improvement to the optics of “Get them out of here!”, the bar is set so low at this point that the effect is meaningless.
Speaking solely on competition and nothing on substance, Sanders is able to remain popular without defeating Clinton because he was a worthy adversary. He was competitive and forced Clinton to her toes via sharp argument and an impressive ground game. With thirteen weeks left until the election, Trump is taking a sustained drubbing in polls across the board, has repeatedly exhibited next to no awareness regarding many of the issues he is presented with, has spent next to no money on advertising, and has a ground game that is still in shambles. People get behind an underdog because they admire their spirit, their unflinching convictions and relentless pursuit of their goals. Trump exhibits none of this. No one outside of “see no evil, hear no evil” fanatics like Katrina Pierson, Jeffery Lord and Rudy Giuliani believe there is a credible chance for Trump to defeat Clinton at this point. Instead of support, he is courting pity. A lame duck candidate, dead in the water by the second week in August. The campaigns of Donald Trump and George McGovern seemed destined to share another parallel, landslide defeat.
The concern in January will be that President-elect Clinton will view the results as a mandate on her support, rather than the more accurate indictment on the total ineptitude of Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton is a Centrist legislator, it is one of her stronger attributes but it leaves her without impetus to stake ground on controversial issues. Being the driving force that has pushed her to the Left on several issues, Bernie Sanders’ legacy will remain much more lasting and significant on the 2016 Elections than Trump’s self-serving marketing campaign.
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