This week, Donald Trump decided to step on every rake in a 30-mile radius. Fresh off of Hillary Clinton’s pathetic display of insanely soporific robotics – she really is remarkably lifelike for an evil cyborg sent from the future to kill Sarah Connor – Trump decided to redirect the news cycle. He did so by attacking a Gold Star family who spoke at the Democratic National Convention.
After the Khan family excoriated Trump for his proposed Muslim immigration ban by speaking in emotional terms about their slain son, Capt. Humayun Khan, Trump couldn’t stop himself. He fired back. He did so by questioning why the mother, Ghazala Khan, hadn’t spoken out, implying strongly that her religion prevented her from doing so. He then said that he has made sacrifices akin to those made by the Khan family.
Forget right or wrong (and this was wrong). This is idiotic.
But Trump can’t stop himself. If there’s one baseline character trait that makes Trump Trump it’s his utter inability to stop himself from hitting back. The Clinton campaign could run a puppy across a Trump stage wearing an “I’m With Her” collar, and Trump would find himself punting it and then telling the media the puppy had it coming.
This, of course, is precisely what animated many conservatives to vote for Trump in the first place. They watched him knock Jeb Bush through a wall repeatedly and figured that he’d do the same with Clinton – he’d hit her with the kitchen sink, then grab the bathroom sink and hit her again.
Unfortunately, Trump’s willingness to hit back provides him with an almost infinite number of targets. When you’re a presidential candidate, you’re on everybody’s mind for months at a time. Many of those people will say negative things about you. If you’re going to run after every squirrel, you’ll find yourself both tired and behind in the race.
But that’s Trump.
And his supporters continue to convince themselves that this is smart. For months, now, they’ve been suggesting that Trump will somehow right the ship, that he’s playing 19-dimensional chess. They shout that Trump’s opponents should shut up and jump on the Trump Train. And so, Trump keeps being Trump. After all, what incentive does he have to change? He’ll always have his base, and it will continue to cheer him along. And because Trump is motivated by praise and criticism, he’ll react to it.
Trump’s supporters were a cheap date. Unwilling to condemn Trump’s morally asinine comments, willing to follow Trump down every rabbit hole, they’ve actually made Trump a weaker candidate. That’s why Clinton, the weakest major party candidate of my lifetime, is now destroying Trump in the polls. Somehow, Trump is finding a way to lose to a living embodiment of corruption and nastiness.
Can Trump turn it around? That’s unlikely. After all, that would require him to turn his back on the squirrels and focus on his actual opponents. He’d have to stop obsessing about Ted Cruz and worry about Hillary Clinton. He’d have to leave the Khan family alone and focus on President Obama. He’d have to stop being Donald Trump.
But Trump will always be Trump.