I've come back to a New York Times story that sees Donald Trump's latest smear campaign as more dangerous for him than it actually is. I'm not saying he's in good shape right now, but he's in no worse shape than he's been after earlier controversies.
Donald J. Trump reeled on Sunday amid a sustained campaign of criticism by the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq and a rising outcry within his own party over his rough and ethnically charged dismissal of the couple.First of all, Donald Trump doesn't "reel," because he never thinks he's done anything wrong and his cult (which now consists of the majority of Republican Party) agrees with him, or agrees that there's literally nothing he could do that would make him more of a danger to America than Hillary Clinton. And the "rising outcry" against Trump is just impotent squeaks of mild protest.
The confrontation between the parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, and Mr. Trump has emerged as an unexpected and potentially pivotal flash point in the general election.Yes, Donald Trump insulted a family of Muslims, then doubled down when challenged. That was so unexpected! Nobody could have foreseen it!
Mr. Trump has plainly struggled to respond to the reproach of a military family who lost a son, and has answered their criticism derisively -- first implying that Ms. Khan had been forbidden to speak at the Democratic National Convention, then declaring that Mr. Khan had “no right” to question Mr. Trump’s familiarity with the Constitution.Is this helping Trump? No, because for the moment he's not on offense against Hillary Clinton. But his cult doesn't think he's "struggling" because, well, he attacked two Muslims who have the audacity to call themselves Americans when they still practice Islam and have accents. They're not native English speakers and they're not Christian or Jews! And Mom wears a headscarf! To Republican voters, they're not even human, and nothing about them can humanize them, not even the fact that their son died fighting for America.
And Mr. Trump’s usual political tool kit has appeared to fail him. He earned no reprieve with his complaints that Mr. Khan had been unfair to him; on Sunday morning, he claimed on Twitter that Mr. Khan had “viciously attacked” him. Mr. Trump and his advisers tried repeatedly to change the subject to Islamic terrorism, to no avail.With his base, "Mr. Trump’s usual political tool kit" is working just fine. With his base, Trump didn't have to change the subject to terrorism because the subject is already terrorism, as far as the base is concerned, whenever Muslims (or at least Muslims who aren't professional athletes) are brought up.
Instead, Mr. Trump appeared to be caught on Sunday in one of the biggest crises of his campaign, rivaling the uproar in June after he suggested a federal judge, Gonzalo P. Curiel, was biased because of his Mexican heritage.And did you notice how little impact that "crisis" had on Trump's poll numbers? It didn't help, but it didn't hurt. Immediately afterward, he caught up with Clinton in the polls. Attacking the judge may have been what Trump was doing when he should have been "pivoting," but he clearly has no intention of "pivoting," and he retains his base's loyalty by not "pivoting." Because he never reaches out to the middle, he'll probably come up short in the general election, but barely so, because the majority of white American voters either love the way Trump campaigns or remain unfazed by his excesses.
... His treatment of the Khans has brought on a new wave of criticism of ... his mockery of Senator John McCain’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.Yeah, remember how that McCain attack destroyed Trump's campaign?
... the top two Republicans in Congress, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, signaled their strong disagreement with Mr. Trump, but stopped short of condemning him in blunt terms.If they "stopped short of condemning him in blunt terms," then their disagreement wasn't "strong."
... It is too soon to say how severe the damage to Mr. Trump might be, but the clash has already entangled him in a self-destructive, dayslong argument with sympathetic accusers who are portraying him as a person of unredeemable callousness.It's not "too soon to say how severe the damage to Mr. Trump might be," as the next sentence in the article makes clear:
Still, he has proved remarkably resilient, getting past controversies that might have sunk other candidates.And that shouldn't be "remarkable" anymore. We should accept the fact that nearly half the country appreciates this approach to campaigning, because it's not "politically correct" and because Trump, in the view of these Americans, "tells it like it is" and "says what everyone is thinking."
Look, there are probably just enough voters in America to keep Trump out of the White House -- Trump is now trailing in the presidential race by 7, according to a CBS poll, the result of a convention bounce for Clinton. But I'm predicting that this multi-day story won't push Trump's numbers down further, and that Trump will narrow the gap several times before November. By November, no voter is going to say, "I would have voted for Trump, but he attacked those Muslim Gold Star parents" -- either you were already disgusted by Trump's hatemongering or you're incapable of seeing people like the Khans as human. And if you're in the latter category, you're in the majority of white Americans -- which is the real problem.
UPDATE: As I was saying:
WATCH: At rally in Ohio today, Trump supporters defend Trump's comments on veterans, Khans, Russia, media coverage.https://t.co/hayGAzXDbL— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) August 1, 2016