by Bob Cesca
It was almost exactly 12 years ago when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth published its book-length smear-campaign against John Kerry, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, during the 2004 general election. Before then, the Kerry-Edwards ticket had endeavored to brand the Democratic nominee using his Vietnam War service record and commendations as evidence of his fighting spirit. He even kicked off his convention speech with the words, "I'm John Kerry, reporting for duty."
But when the Swift Boat Veterans attacked the Massachusetts senator and current Secretary of State, calling into question Kerry's valor along with the decorations that went along with it, including the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts for wounds received in action, Kerry and his team had two choices. Simply put: they could either fight back or they could ignore the attacks. Contrary to the packaging of Kerry's bellicosity, Kerry chose to let conspiracy author Jerome Corsi, along with Karl Rove and the Bush 43 campaign to tar and feather the Democrat with little opposition.
According to CBS News, Kerry entered August with a five-point advantage over the president, but when September rolled around, Kerry had dropped to seven-points behind the incumbent. In one month, the Swift Boat Veterans successfully stripped Kerry of 12 points, without anything more than a whimper from the Democrats. And Bush was almost assured reelection by margins exceeding his wafer-thin electoral college victory (thanks in part to Bush v Gore) four years earlier. (Newsweek, by the way, showed Kerry with a five point lead on August 1, and an 11-point deficit by the first week of September.)
A dozen years later, Donald Trump is faced with a similar fork in the road -- two choices that are quite different from Kerry's but just as potentially fatal. He could've shifted gears to a more traditional and more presidential campaign following his catastrophic August so far, or he could've simply augmented is already suicidal, caustic, rank-your-momma posture. After another several days flirting with decorum and poise, Trump chose to embrace the darkness, evidenced by the fact that he's brought in a pair of obvious enablers who will clearly encourage Trump to continue his Popeye theme: I am what I am.
Trump has apparently tapped Roger Ailes to provide the Republican nominee with debate prep in advance of the trilogy of televised showdowns against Hillary Clinton. And the campaign has added Breitbart News evangelist Stephen Bannon as Trump-Pence 2016's official CEO, nudging the embattled Paul Manafort aside.
Twitter Troll Trump has apparently won the day, and it will likely cost him the presidency.
Make no mistake, unlike Kerry's bad choice in 2004, this is stellar news. I won't lie and say I'm outraged or offended by Trump's various and sundry blurts. I love it when he says verifiably insane things because it's both endlessly entertaining to watch such a "winner" proudly and defiantly self-immolate, and I want nothing more than to see Trump completely and devastatingly humiliated on November 8. So, by all means, keep going, Mr. Trump. Keep saying out loud whatever controversial gibberish pops into your cartoonishly coiffed head. The more voters see how deranged and incompetent you are, the greater the chances those same voters will provide a mandatory firewall between you and the Oval Office -- for the good of the world.
Sadly, however, the broader Republican Party will likely hold yet another post-mortem following November, as they did four year ago. And, predictably, they'll conclude the wrong things.
In other words, rather than zeroing in on the GOP's systemic malfunctions, each of which conspiring to elevate someone like Trump as the nominee, the party will very likely miss the forest for the orange trees. The problem isn't Trump. Trump is a symptom. The problem is twofold: 1) the GOP's kneejerk say-the-opposite-of-Obama strategy has emphasized how the party stands for nothing other than the opposite of what the Democrats stand for, and 2) pandering to the rural nincompoops and hateful ignoramuses who are addicted to right-wing media.
When Republicans merely repeat the opposite of what the Democrats are saying, they tend to look silly. They end up contradicting conservative positions, and they end up flipflopping incessantly. Trump, for example, chose to oppose NAFTA and TPP because of Obama's support for each, not realizing that his own running-mate, Mike Pence, supports both NAFTA and TPP. Pence also voted for the Iraq AUMF, which Trump has relentlessly criticized Hillary for supporting. Meanwhile, the GOP has abandoned facts and commonly-held truths in favor of telling occupants of the conservative entertainment bubble exactly what they want to hear -- and how they want to hear it. It's a strategy that's divorced the conservative movement from its intellectual roots and tethered it to low-information yokels who distrust anything that doesn't originate from talk radio or "Fox News Alerts."
Rather than targeting and repairing these two major glitches (there are many other minor ones, by the way), the GOP will inevitably conclude that Trump's failure to pivot after the conventions doomed his campaign, resulting in a bloodbath up-and-down the ballot. I'm of course speculating, but based on the GOP's penchant for taking away the wrong message, it's entirely possible that the party will conclude its existential crisis began and ended with Trump's decision to continue blurting shit.
The upshot will be, perhaps, the elevation of yet another Trump-style figure -- or many -- in 2019 and 2020. Only this time, these candidates will be instructed to not make the same Trump's mistake in 2016. Specifically, it's possible that the Republicans will run another demagogic populist who will, unlike Trump, pivot to being presidential when necessary.
The cascading systems breakdown within the GOP is, weirdly, being mostly ignored by party leadership, which is more concerned with staying the course rather than shifting gears. Instead, the malfunction is Trump's alone. Reince Priebus, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan will have a convenient scapegoat to beat to death, but they'll ignore the fact that their house is on fire.