by Cinzia Croce and Alex Knepper
After a month off, we’re back and ready for an unforgettable general election season. Our ’roundtable discussion’ format was well-received last month when we discussed the Pence VP nomination, so we’ve decided to use it again as we dissect the state of the race…
AK: So, the race always goes into a bit of a lull period between the conventions and the debates, but it appears that there is not going to be any ‘pivot,’ and a Hillary landslide looks more likely than a Trump victory at all, at this point. I see you being a good soldier for Trump when you debate, but — I’ve gotta wonder: are you resigning yourself to defeat? Do you see a way for Trump to turn it around, given what we know about his MO?
CC: As far as I am concerned, the Trump candidacy is a win no matter what happens on election day. He has changed the debate within the Republican Party, and I don’t see the party going back to the Bushes or the same stale policy prescriptions that were so soundly defeated during the primary. Besides, while I understand your eagerness to call the race in August, I think it is premature. I believe Trump is probably 4 or 5 points behind, and that is not insurmountable. The race is in Trump’s hands; he needs to demonstrate that he can be disciplined, that he is serious, and that he has the temperament to be president. If he does, he wins. If questions about his temperament continue to dominate the news, he loses.
AK: How many chances at-bat does he get? We’re under 3 months away from the election. It seems to me that the debates are the only chance he has now to make up for it — he’s not going to stop being who he is; he has to demonstrate he can meet the moment in a high-stakes atmosphere. But every time he tries to ‘pivot,’ he ends up sticking his foot in his mouth 48 hours later. I think what we’re seeing really is his temperament, he’s a 70-year-old man, he’s been successful with this approach all his life — why would he change now? It’s not in Trump’s character. He is who he is. Then again, it wasn’t in his character to pick Pence. Pence at least provides Trump supporters a ray of hope insofar as he indicates that Trump is willing to buck his gut if he thinks the moment calls for it.
CC: Actually, it is not that hard for Trump to avoid “sticking his foot in his mouth”. All he needs to do is follow Hillary’s script: deliver a scripted speech every 2 or 3 days, avoid interviews, press conference and leave Twitter to the professionals. Freelancing at rallies is what gets him in trouble. He likes to have fun with the crowd, he likes to entertain. But the time for fun is over. He has to show a level of seriousness that can only be delivered through set policy pieces.
AK: He can’t help lashing out at his critics, though. He loves causing a stir, there’s no shortage of people talking about him, and it’s not only fun for him, but habitual. Everything in his life has taught him that it pays off to remain on offense and that no critic should be allowed to get away with being ‘unfair’ to him. It’s not that he can’t deliver solid attacks on Hillary or that he can’t deliver policy proposals, but that he can’t not mouth off. It’s in his nature. And that is why I have said since from the beginning — if Trump gets the nomination, the election is going to end up being about Trump and whether he’s fit for the presidency, because his behavior is not in any meaningful sense an act, as much as some people want to believe it is.
CC: Above all, I think Trump likes to win. It is clear from the polling that his usual tactics are not working. We will find out whether an old dog can learn new tricks.
AK: I think he wants to win the election, but not actually govern. I think he wants it to be close enough that he can claim the election was stolen from him. If he loses in a landslide then he looks like a loser, but if he loses by a few points, then he can talk his supporters into thinking he lost only because of fraud.
CC: I don’t believe we have a legitimate process, and I felt this way long before Trump came on the scene. We have the appearance of democracy, but the reality is that the deck is very much stacked in favor of maintaining the status quo. All Trump has done is shine the light on the unfair process and made more people aware. As far as Trump not wanting to govern, I think there are few issues he cares about like trade and that he would genuinely would like to renegotiate NAFTA and other agreements if for no other reason to prove himself as the greatest deal-maker in history.
AK: Who in the history of politics has ever arranged a system to work against their desires? Of course the deck is stacked in favor of the status quo. Trump supporters’ beef isn’t the stacked deck — it’s with the nature of the status quo. As with everything in Trumpworld, ‘fairness’ is clearly determined by whether you like it. Which is fine — that’s how a lot of politics goes, after all. But Trump’s character says to me that he’s not a guy who tries to un-rig systems but rather a guy who tries to re-rig systems for the benefit of him and his friends.
CC: Yes, Trump supporters are unhappy with the status quo and want to change it. When do we get the opportunity to discuss policies and the record of the status quo? Look at the so-called “national security experts” who have endorsed Hillary. Do they talk about their failed record? Of course not, they talk about Trump’s temperament or lack of knowledge. Their expertise certainly has not produced a safer America or world. But they don’t want to be held accountable so they have invented the issue of Trump not having the proper temperament. Who gets to define what is the proper temperament? The status quo. Very convenient.