Ever since news spread of the original gaffe, there’s been a robust offline debate among progressive scribblers about what this means for the presidential contest. A surprising number of my friends are convinced that it won’t hurt Trump or could actually help him, since he feeds on both good and bad publicity and his core supporters hate McCain and the RNC anyway.Yes, but when Nixon brandished the Vietnam POWs as a political weapon, his target was dirty hippie America-haters who had long hair and did drugs and didn't bathe and listened to that jungle rock and roll. Ever since, call for support the troops have meant one thing and one thing only: Are you a patriot, or are you a commie liberal Democrat who wants our enemies to win?
I dunno. Perhaps I was too affected by the whole Cult of the Vietnam POW (read Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge for a very thorough discussion of Nixon’s exploitation of those POWs to retroactively justify his failed Vietnam policies), but my gut feeling is that mocking a revered longtime POW is within the Republican context close to being the political equivalent of the Sin Against the Holy Ghost. And the over-the-top reaction from other GOPers reflects that belief.
Unless you're in the latter category, you're in the clear -- you don't really have to hold miiltary service sacred. You can attack John Kerry as a phony war hero, you can deprive U.S. forces in Iraq of adequate protection from IEDs, and you can certainly have an excellent political career in the Republican Party despite never having seen combat. Think Mitt Romney, think George W. Bush and Dick Cheney -- hell, think Dan Quayle, or Ronald Reagan for that matter. That's why The Washington Post's angry article "What Donald Trump Was Up To While John McCain Was a Prisoner of War" won't give pause to most Trump fans, even though its points are well made and should be devastating to Trump:
... McCain languished in a genuine hell. When he wasn’t being tortured -- several times his interrogators rebroke his mended bones -- he was battling everything from dysentery to hemorrhoids.It doesn't matter. It didn't matter with Quayle, Bush, Cheney, or Romney. Getting self-righteous about the sacrifices made by servicemembers and the safer lives of civilians is something conservatives do only to attack liberals and Democrats.
The prisoner of war survived on watery pumpkin soup and scraps of bread. He saw several fellow prisoners beaten to death, yet McCain refused to sign the confession that would have granted him a speedy release (and a publicity coup to the North Vietnamese).
Trump was living large -- maybe not by today’s Trump standards but larger than most Americans. He ate in New York City’s finest restaurants, rode in his father’s limousines and began hitting the clubs with beautiful women....
Oh, but of course the people who feel this way about liberals and Democrats aren't fond of so-called RINOs, either. Which is why I'm in agreement with Josh Marshall:
Let's not forget: these are supporters who have cheered Trump as he's called Mexicans rapists and criminals and all the rest. They don't have delicate sensibilities. Let's also not forget that these kinds of attacks on McCain (actually considerably uglier ones) have a long history among hardcore base Republicans, just the folks Trump is spiking with. They claim he had a lackluster career before his capture (some real truth in that) and they hint he may have been turned in some way by captors or betrayed his fellow POWs during his captivity (zero evidence for this). But even beyond the hardcore fringe that believes those things, McCain is just really not popular with base Republicans, especially not those who define themselves around the immigration issue. He's the ultimate RINO. All of which is to say, if you're someone who's cheered to Trump's clown car of aggression and derp over recent weeks, I see little here that will make you reconsider your enthusiasm. In fact, I see a lot that will make you see this as more of a brash truth-teller who won't take any crap from the Republican establishment, the media or its favored leaders.What's more, I think Trump's opponents are still afraid of him. They've come to McCain's defense because they think they're on safe ground there, but I disagree with Kilgore that they're going to go further:
We will now see the entire kitchen sink thrown at [Trump]: the donations to Democratic candidates and to the Clinton Foundation; the lefty issue positions he’s made and only partially abandoned; and of course, his own record of dubious-sounding draft deferments. My guess is he cannot help but lose support, but we’ll soon see.Who's going to attack him for donations to Democrats and the Clinton Foundation? Jeb Bush who once gave an award to Hillary Clinton and whose father is Bill Clinton's close friend and charitable partner? Chris Christie, who lavished praise on President Obama after Hurricane Sandy?
Who'll attack Trump for flip-flopping? The many Republicans who flirted with immigration reform in the past and are now scurrying to revise their positions in ways that won't alienate GOP primary voters but also won't alienate voters in a general election?
And who'll ding Trump for draft-dodging? Who in this massive field has even served? Jeb? Christie? Paul? Walker? Nope, nope, nope, and nope. Rick Perry and Lindsey Graham served, and that's it. Get caught denouncing evasion of military service, and how will you wind up on a ticket with Jeb?
So, yeah, I think Trump is safe for now.