Donald Trump has jumped the shark.
TV shows can reach a point when they begin to get stale and have to rely on gimmicks, becoming a virtual parody of themselves or “jumping the shark” to try to stave off the inevitable decline. “I think Mr. Trump is a wonderful entertainer,” Carly Fiorina said during the Republican presidential candidate debate on Wednesday night.
It is not that Trump’s poll numbers are immediately going to crater. He is still leading all the polls. But when we look back at the 2016 presidential election, the second Republican candidate debate might well emerge as a crucial turning point for Trump.
He tried to keep his show going by ramping up the gratuitous insults: “Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on this stage,” “I went to Number 1 and you [Scott Walker] went down the tubes.”
But this time his competitors were prepared. When Fiorina was asked about Trump’s attempt to explain his mean-spirited remark about her appearance (“Look at that face”), Fiorina replied acidly, “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”
The sharpest put-down came when Walker was asked whether he felt comfortable with Trump’s finger on the nuclear trigger. Walker replied, “We don’t know who you are or where you’re going.” Exactly.
Trump is like the wise-ass kid who brags about how smart he is but never does his homework. Sooner or later, the fact that he doesn’t know anything is going to catch up with him. That process began Wednesday night. When the debate turned to serious issues like the Syria crisis and the nuclear deal with Iran, Trump vanished from the discussion for long periods of time.
What would he do about Russian incursions into the Middle East? Trump offered this reassurance: “I will get along, I think, with Putin and I will get along with others and we will have a much more stable world.” Explaining his opposition to the Iraq war, Trump said, “I’m a very militaristic person.” What the hell does that mean?
Asked about his criticism of childhood vaccinations, Trump talked about “a beautiful child [who] went to have the vaccine and came back and week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick and now is autistic.” There’s scientific evidence for you.
Americans take their vote for president of the United States more seriously than their vote for any other public office. And right now, 60 percent of Americans don’t believe Trump is qualified to be president. One of them is former New York Governor George Pataki, who asserted during the earlier debate, “Let me say this flat out. Donald Trump is unfit to be president of the United States or the Republican Party’s nominee.’’
A vote for president is not like voting for Congress or for state and local offices, when people can use their vote to send a message. Or when they express a preference in a poll or vote in a presidential primary to make a statement. That’s what the candidacies of Republican Patrick J. Buchanan in 1992, Democrat Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 and independent Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 were all about.
But voters don’t take chances with their presidential vote. There’s too much at stake.
What kind of statement are people making with Trump? Simply that the United States is changing and they don’t like it. “I think white people think their sovereignty has been infringed on,” a Dallas resident was quoted as saying at a Trump rally this week. Trump wears a hat that says, “Make America great again.”
It’s a protest against the New America coalition, including immigrants, minorities, gays, working women and liberals, that brought President Barack Obama to power. The message for Trump supporters is, “Bring the Old America back” — when the country was run by older white men. Like Trump.
Trump rallies have begun to draw Latino demonstrators. They are protesting his statements that Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and “criminals” and that all “illegal immigrants” must be deported. “It’s not good,” a protester in Dallas said to the Washington Post, that “we are out here and all the white people are inside, cheering him on.” It’s certainly not good for the Republican Party.
Mitt Romney warned GOP contributors in 2012 that if Republicans don’t start doing better with Latino voters, “It spells doom for us.” It certainly spelled doom for him.
The sharpest rebuke to Trump to date is likely to come next week when Pope Francis visits the United States. The pope is due to address a joint session of Congress. One of his big concerns is immigration. According to a Vatican source, “He won’t say, ‘Open all borders,’ but there’s no two ways about it. He will say, ‘Let’s give our immigrant brothers and sisters a fair chance.’”
Trump recently criticized former Florida Governor Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish to Latino audiences. “He should really set the example,” Trump said, “by speaking English while in the United States.”
The pope will be meeting with immigrant groups in New York and Philadelphia. When he does, he will likely speak in his native language — and theirs: Spanish.
We’ll see what Mr. Trump feels compelled to advise the pope.