Donald Trump has succeeded in dividing American conservatives. For every Mark Levin, who is defending him, there is a gang at National Review that is criticizing him. Some people think that he is great for conservatism, while others think that he is destroying it and the Republican brand.
Since Trump has NEVER been noted for being a conservative himself, this must count as a significant achievement.
Based on Trump’s unhinged reaction to Megyn Kelly, she clearly got the better of him. Rather than address substantive issues, he has responded by trying to shoot the messenger. Dare I say, it is beneath the dignity of a man who wants to be president of the United States.
Some commenters on this blog find that I have completely lost my own mind… for being critical of Donald Trump’s temperament and for questioning the reputational cost Republicans are paying for having him be the standard bearer of the party.
For today, at least, policy and politics are being overshadowed by Trump’s feud with Megyn Kelly. How this advances the conservative cause is beyond me. Why this makes him look more presidential or draws more attention to his ideas is also beyond me.
Yesterday, Trump’s former campaign adviser, Roger Stone resigned from the campaign. He wrote in his letter of resignation:
Unfortunately, the current controversies involving media personalities and provocative media fights have reached such a high volume that it has distracted attention from your platform and overwhelmed your core message. With this current direction of your candidacy I can no longer be involved in your campaign.
Naturally, Trump said that Stone had been fired.
Several conservatives, among them the thoroughly estimable Mark Levin have rushed to defend Trump. For example, Levin railed against Megyn Kelly for drawing a sexual innuendo from what he considered Trump’s perfectly innocent remark to a contestant on The Apprentice, to the effect that it would be a “pretty picture” to see her on her knees.
For the record, Kelly’s precise words were:
You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees….
Whatever Trump might have meant-- in truth, when doing critical exegesis what the words say is more important than the speaker’s intentions-- the remark, while not explicitly sexual, certainly has an implicit sexual connotation. In current parlance, a woman who falls to her knees in front of a man is not looking for a contact lens. When women talk of knee pads they are not thinking of playing basketball.
Here’s a remark from a New York Times column by Tufts philosophy professor Nancy Bauer, from several years ago:
When they’re on their knees in front of a worked-up guy they just met at a party, they genuinely do feel powerful — sadistic, even.
Levin might not know it, but Trump must have known about the sexual connotation. Even if he did not, even if he is perfectly innocent before God—since when did Trump ever present himself as a young naif—the remark suggests what it suggests. If Trump was being ambiguous, he is responsible for any reasonable interpretation and should immediately apologize. He will not, but he should.
Levin also notes, correctly that the press has been far less concerned about asking Hillary Clinton about her husband's having been accused of rape. Of course, NBC news aired an hour-long program wherein Juanita Broaddrick made her case against Bill Clinton.
Should the press ask Hillary Clinton about it? Yes, they should. Does their failure to follow up on the issue means that they should never call out any Republican candidate on degrading and intemperate statements about women? No, it should not.
A good conservative like Kevin Williamson offers this analysis:
If you think that saying that sort of thing is merely a violation of political correctness and effete coastal liberal etiquette, try it on some dry-land cotton farmer’s wife or daughter and see if you live to boast of your free-spiritedness.
To be quite explicit, if you accept Levin’s reading try it out on a cotton farmer. Tell him his daughter or his wife would look pretty on her knees.
Since Trump was called out yesterday for making a crude and insulting reference to Megyn Kelly’s womanhood, we ought to examine the remark and his rationalization. As you recall, Trump said:
And you know, you can see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever, but she was, in my opinion, she was off base.
Trump was disinvited from the Red State gathering he was supposed to have addressed yesterday for making what some considered a crude reference to menstruation. He fired back by accusing his detractors of having a dirty mind. He insisted that he had really been referring to her “nose.”
Strictly speaking—assuming that we like to speak strictly—and following Trump’s own explication of his remarks—he saw Kelly's head as exuding blood.. For those of us who were watching, there was no blood coming out of Kelly’s eyes, so this ghoulish image was Trump’s alone. If you take Trump at his word, he was using a visually compelling and vulgar image to diminish and demean and denounce a journalist… as evil. If we take him at his word, he was saying that she was so filled with rage that blood was seeping from her eyes and nose.
Those of you who saw the exchange may ask themselves: did Kelly really look that angry?
Even if we accept that Trump did not mean to make any disparaging sexual reference, everyone who heard it immediately thought that he was referring to menstruation. Why was that so? Because, in using the word “wherever” he was referring to a place, not a thing, and because in using that word he was suggesting that the real word he intended to say was unfit for a family audience. You do not self-censor the word “nose.” As for where a woman is more likely to bleed... the implication is clear.
What he really, really meant does not matter. No speaker owns the language. No speaker owns his own verbal ejaculations. Once the words are out there in the public domain, they are fair game… subject to interpretation, both correct interpretation and incorrect interpretation. In this case, the sexual connotation is reasonable. If it is not what Trump meant, he should apologize for offering words that gave the wrong impression. He refused to apologize so the interpretation stands.
This morning Trump is going to appear on all the network talk shows (except for Fox), the better to continue to defend himself against charges of being a vulgar boor. Perhaps he is trying to make himself, not his ideas, the center of the debate. Is this going to advance the conservative cause? Williamson says it will not:
It is true that the our inability to control our borders is an existential threat to these United States and that the crisis of illegal immigration is felt most intensely in downscale communities that do not register on Washington’s radar or Wall Street’s. But Trump’s buffoonery makes it less likely rather than more likely that something substantive will be done on the question.
Trump has raised some important issues. But, he is all show and no substance. In the end, politics must have substance. In the end, Williamson notes, that is the real problem:
As the debate last night made obvious — obvious enough even for those drawn to Trump, if they can bear a moment’s intellectual honesty — that blustery, Babbitty persona is really all he has. Asked to provide evidence for his daft conspiracy theory that our illegal-immigration crisis is a result of the Mexican government’s intentionally flooding the United States with platoons of rapists, Trump’s answer was, essentially, “I heard it from a guy.” Challenged on his support for a Canadian-style single-payer health-care system, Trump described the system of his dreams in one word: “better.” As though nobody had ever thought: “What we need is better policies instead of worse policies.” Trump’s mind is so full of Trump that there isn’t any room for ideas, or even basic knowledge.