Only Native Americans had more to complain about this fateful Columbus Day weekend than disconsolate Republicans. The videotape debacle and Trump’s snarky reaction prompted me to contact several friends on his national campaign staff. Couldn’t they please tell him to recover some semblance of self-respect and make a semi-dignified withdrawal in favor of Mike Pence? But since sanity hasn’t been a hallmark of this campaign, I wasn’t surprised when The Donald listened to other and darker voices, maybe even his own.
His debate performance was clearly do-or-die: to salvage his position at the head of the ticket; to staunch the bleeding of a truly desperate campaign; and maybe even to inoculate himself against the release of other, equally damning tapes. But what Donald Trump actually achieved on Sunday evening was to establish himself before the country and the world as the only American politician more disliked, distrusted and personally corrupt than Hillary Clinton. Assisting him in that great endeavor was Stephen K. Brannon, former chairman of Breitbart and now CEO of the Trump campaign organization, such as it is. Not content with existing disasters, Mr. Brannon apparently conceived the brilliant idea of bringing four women who had accused President Bill Clinton of rape and inserting them into the cozy confines of the town-hall audience. Had debate officials not intervened, the plan was also to have those women flaunt themselves in seats reserved for the families of the candidates.
It was precisely the kind of hare-brained scheme that might occasionally win battles but is guaranteed to lose wars. But everything about the Trump-Bannon escapade seemed expressly designed for the “deplorables” famously disparaged by Hillary Clinton. No one in Trump-land apparently understands that presidential contests are decided by the Great American Middle, the coalition of voters understandably concerned about debt and terrorism, the undecided neighbors down the street troubled by a shrinking military and the chilling prospect of open borders. While Trump touched on some of those issues, he was persuasive on none of them, his flailing personal attacks wildly aimed at Hillary’s capillaries, never her jugular. Worst of all: He consistently displayed the overweening personal arrogance of a man you would never invite into your home unless the bank was foreclosing on your mortgage. And only then after making sure the wife and kids were safely occupied elsewhere.
If you doubt that grim diagnosis, then you may have missed the significance of Speaker Paul Ryan’s message yesterday to his now-threatened flock of House Republicans. With a national debacle in the wings, he suspended any further support for Donald Trump, urging his congressional colleagues to save themselves. One of those he probably had in mind is a young man for whom I’m now block-walking here in San Antonio: Congressman Will Hurd of the Texas 23rd Congressional District. A black Republican currently occupying a notoriously marginal seat, Hurd is being aggressively targeted by the Democratic campaign committee. Their strategy: Tying Hurd to Donald Trump on every issue from immigration to education. Their TV ads consistently feature the freshman congressman with a startling quote or bloviating voice-over from Donald Trump.
Any idea how an already tight race just became a little tighter? Or how a Clinton landslide might take down rising leaders like Hurd, and with him the next GOP generation? Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Julian Castro have a strategic goal of turning Texas from Red to Blue; given their long-standing media dominance and rising demographic advantages, that goal might well become a reality sooner rather than later. To reach it, they must ruthlessly eliminate rising Republican stars like Hurd, a former CIA case officer who furiously confronted FBI Director James Comey at a House hearing after his whitewash of Hillary Clinton. While most congressional freshmen expect to keep quiet, Hurd has already established a reputation for attracting strong bipartisan support, reforming the pay of Border Patrol agents and streamlining the Federal government’s cyber infrastructure. When Nancy Pelosi speaks of how important it is to ensure Hurd’s imminent defeat, (as she does during a current campaign commercial) you have to concede that, like the Devil quoting Scripture, she at least knows her business.
All the more reason to insure that seat belts in Texas and elsewhere are securely fastened: Because this next month is going to be a really bumpy ride!
Colonel Ken Allard (U.S. Army, Ret.) is a draftee who eventually served on the West Point faculty, as dean of the National War College and as a NATO peacekeeper in Bosnia.