Donald Trump’s abortion comments were reprehensible, yes, but knowing his campaign, it can’t be all that he’s saying.
A couple of days ago, Donald Trump announced that women who perform illegal abortions should be punished. He was asked if this meant ten cents, or ten years. Trump didn’t have an answer. “That, I don’t know.”
The media went into overdrive. Both ends of the spectrum and every dimension in between turned ballistic.
The Right side of the political tree said he didn’t understand conservative principles or the traditional Republican position on the issue.
The Left said he was a dispassionate barbarian.
The middle said he was showing his incompetence, ineptitude and general unpreparedness to run for president.
While taken on face value, Trump’s statement indeed merits all these disapprovals. But I think the brouhaha and consternation is aiding to obscure an entirely different agenda. I believe that while every camp justifiably excoriates Trump, they play right into his hand and miss the card he’s hiding up his sleeve.
The Wisconsin primary is four days away and Trump is predicted to lose.
I have a hunch that Trump is playing the expectations game. He’s trying to make the probable Wisconsin loss a story of self-sabotage rather than one about an ascendant rival.
If you’re going to lose, you should, at least, make sure you minimise what your opponent has to gain from their win.
There are a number of reasons I’ve formed this conclusion, though it crystallised when I saw Trump back in front of a camera yesterday, and again…unbelievably…he fumbled question. Once again he was asked about abortion and he again returned a confused, bewildering and nonsensical response.
Let me just ask you…if you were the Trump campaign, following the last few days’ debacle, what is the one thing you would want to have nailed down? Surely a clear position on abortion, right? I mean they’ve already issued two written statements sweeping up the mess Donald made. So how is it possible that a candidate who arranged for the TV interview himself – knowing full well he would be asked about this, again – made a meal of it…again?
I don’t think so.
Trump, for all his faults, is a born salesman. That’s basically all he is: a really good salesman. He’s quick on his feet and can pivot off a subject with the best of them. I’ve listened to enough speeches and read enough transcripts to see that he very rarely says things “not on purpose.” He may have contrary positions and views that many find repugnant, but they are still his views.
Across all his interviews I count three times he genuinely got flummoxed and misspoke:
1) when he couldn’t explain the nuclear triad.
2) when he couldn’t enumerate what, in his opinion, the three most important functions of Federal government were.
3) when he had absolutely no idea what cyber warfare might involve.
I’ve reviewed these answers and they were bad. Really bad. He squirms, changes tone; his voice pitches up and he starts using “you” and “you know” as every second syllable.
Trump didn’t behave at all like that when responding to the question of abortion.
Okay, that’s my empiric evidence. I’ve given you my theory. Now let me explain the benefit I think Trump derives from his ruse. (I have to give you his MO if I’m to make a compelling case that he’s acting rationally.)
If Cruz wins Wisconsin (which recent polls say he almost certainly will) the standard narrative would be “Cruz takes down Trump.” Cruz would garner an enormous amount of free media, the anti-Trump forces would hoist their champion on their shoulders and money would flow from wealthy GOP donors into Cruz’s coffers. All the stories about Trump would be that he’s vulnerable, that he can be beaten, beaten by Cruz, that Cruz has the momentum, and bells toll for Trump.
However, if Trump persists with his current frame – playing the expectations game – he can come out of this loss with quite a different media angle. The revised narrative is about a self-destructive candidate, a foolish candidate, an ill-equipped and unprepared candidate. If Trump self-sabotages then that’s the story. Cruz doesn’t get to claim the win so much as Trump gets to deny him the glory. Once again Trump succeeds in sucking all the oxygen out of the room and hogging all the media for himself. The donations would be much less for Cruz as lingering doubts about his capabilities might remain.
And the next primary after this “muted loss” is NY: good ol’ New. York. City. Trump’s home turf. He’s set to crush it there. Donald’s up by 35 points. So the little bump in the road is covered over, Trump enjoys a massive win in New York, and “trolls on” into the convention.
If there’s one thing I have learned about Trump over the past ten months it’s that he’s wily, cunning and nobody’s fool. He may sound foolish and stupid, but that’s not the same thing as being foolish and stupid – especially if your constituency thus far is…well…let’s use the Don’s own words: “poorly educated.”
Don’t believe me yet? It’s all in his book, The Art of the Deal.