by James Wigderson | August 18, 2016 11:36 pm
Waukesha Freeman Thursday, 08/18/2016 Pag.A06 Opinion
As if southeastern Wisconsin hasn’t suffered enough in recent days, Sean Hannity of Fox News held a “town hall” event in Milwaukee Tuesday night with presidential candidate Donald Trump. It was probably modeled after the presenting of a crown to Caesar described by Shakespeare, although I doubt Trump would have had the will power Caesar did to resist.
More important than Hannity’s audition for the Trump Steaks pitch man job opening after the election, Trump ventured north by northwest to West Bend to speak to a friendly crowd about law and order.
Following the riots in Milwaukee, the timing of Trump’s speech was fortuitous, and he took full advantage. For the first roughly eight minutes of the speech, Trump talked about how crime, violence and the recent riots had harmed the African-American community. He also talked about the importance of supporting the police in those communities. It was very good and correctly placed the blame on liberalism for the failures and dysfunction in our inner cities.
One of the more absurd criticisms of Trump’s speech from CNN’s Don Lemon, as well as other cable news talking heads, was that Trump was making an appeal for African-American votes from lily-white West Bend. Those critics miss that the speech’s location was planned well in advance. Moving the speech just to take advantage of the riots would not only have been a logistical mess, it would have been criticized as pandering.
Trump’s critics on this point are also ignoring, perhaps intentionally, that Trump spoke earlier in the evening in Milwaukee. Just because it was a Fox News exclusive event doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Most important, those critics miss the real intended audiences of the speech. The appeal to law and order isn’t for the benefit of African-American voters, it’s for white suburbanites who are afraid of crime and violence spilling into the suburbs. Could Trump make a case for restoring order in our cities without stumbling into the kind of inflamed racial rhetoric that has plagued his campaign? Tuesday night, he could.
The rest of the speech was a sprawling mess, including comparing the November election to “peaceful regime change.” Trump again blamed immigration for much of the problems in our country. Of course, that only applies to certain immigrants, and not models that marry billionaires. He blamed free trade and promised to renegotiate NAFTA in a state that is a net beneficiary of free trade. He again promised to force businesses to remain in the United States, much the same way banana republics have tried without success.
Still, the speech was palatable. Had Trump spoken like this from the beginning of the campaign, like Terry Malloy he could’ve been a contender. The message of economic nationalism may not square with the free-market principles of the conservative movement, the authoritarianism may still alienate many within the Republican Party, but at least we were spared the worst of Trump’s verbal excesses.
So the only question remained, how would Trump stomp on his own message? Because whenever the Trump campaign does something right, they find a way to make something embarrassing the story instead. I gave the over/under of 10:00 a.m. before Trump figured out some way to make something else the story.
I should have called my bookie and bet the under. Overnight the news broke Trump demoted Paul Manafort as his top campaign aide and hired Steven Bannon of Breitbart News to run the campaign. Bannon has no political experience, but he does have experience in explaining away every awful thing Trump has said.
Under Bannon, Breitbart News went from the vision of its founder to a haven for the “alt right,” an experiment at legitimizing bigotry. The website has been a nonstop cheerleader for Trump. It was also the engine behind Paul Nehlen’s failed, awful, bigoted campaign against House Speaker Paul Ryan.
If there was any hope that somehow Trump would “pivot” and become “more presidential,” surely that hope is now gone. It’s likely that the campaign will be more about indulging Trump’s penchant for verbal diarrhea than it will be about winning the election, letting Trump be Trump.
Those Republicans that saw Trump’s speech Tuesday night may have witnessed the last gasp of a now extinct species, a rational Republican presidential campaign.
(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)
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