He had me fooled. Prior to Donald Trump proclaiming last week that he was now unshackled and free to run his campaign in the way that he really wanted to, I had thought he was the most undisciplined, most unfiltered, and least constrained political candidate I had ever seen.
Trump’s declaration of freedom seems to have been provoked by Paul Ryan, John McCain and some other prominent Republicans abandoning his campaign in the aftermath of two weeks of unravelling. The high–no, low–point came with the revelation of a tape capturing Trump bragging about groping women whenever he felt like it.
The only surprising thing about the reactions to the tape was that some Republicans were surprised by it. Trump throughout the campaign has demeaned women, African-Americans, Mexicans, refugees, Muslims, a disable reporter and just about anyone who came within his sight. His campaign has been nasty, coarse, filled with lies and intended to appeal to people’s worse instinct. Despite that history, it apparently took language that was sexually explicit to put some former supporters over the edge.
Now Trump has a new group to attack, Republicans who refuse to fall in line. In his attacks on the politically unfaithful, he is blasting holes in what remains of the Republican Party, creating what some observers have described as a civil war. Even as it looks more likely that he will lose decisively in November, the aftershocks are likely to reverberate for months if not years.
Meantime we can speculate about what an unshackled Trump will do in the days between now and November 8. Recognizing that he has run the most unconventional campaign in modern history, we can still be pretty confident about some of the coming attractions. He will almost certainly continue to attack Bill Clinton, getting increasingly graphic over time. Count also on more stunts involving the four women allegedly harassed by the former president.
Trump has gotten enthusiastic response to his wildly irresponsible call to put Hillary Clinton in jail after he becomes president. He is likely to hammer that theme with more claims about her unproven transgressions. This particular spectacle puts a lie to the claim by Trump and his supporters that they venerate the constitution.
Perhaps even more irresponsibly, Trump will continue to raise the specter of a rigged election with its overt racial overtones. His not-at-all veiled references to voter fraud by black Philadelphia residents is likely to be just the opening salvo. He may, however, find it difficult to blame inner city voters when he loses Utah.
In what will surely be a counterproductive effort, some of his supporters are now tweeting about the need to repeal the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote. That call will only add to the gender gap, in which Trump trails Clinton by staggering percentages.
Additionally, you can count on Trump ratcheting up the number and outlandishness of his lies. To say that he has an uneasy relationship with the truth would give him too much credit. Trump lied continuously at the second debate, which made it no different from the rest of the campaign.
As one of so many examples, he has been briefed by intelligence officials on the fact that the Russians are responsible for the hacking of the Democratic Party, but continues to assert that it could be could be anyone. That claim serves as a reminder to listeners of his strange admiration for the Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin.
The list of lies is almost endless. Trying to catalog them is actually beyond the scope of even the most diligent fact checker.
I’m afraid that what I’ve done up to now is barely scratch the surface of what’s in store for us. In the words of a song that was popular during the 1979 run of the Baltimore Orioles to the World Series, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
We are likely to be bombarded with a constant volley of conspiracy theories, many of which have been lurking in the recesses of the alt.right. If he hadn’t already used it, we might well be hearing that Hillary Clinton was born in Kenya. We may well hear about her secret ties to ISIS.
The effect of an unshackled Trump will make his election even less likely, will seriously damage Republican prospects in the Senate and maybe even in the House and leave the Party in total disarray.
It’s also likely to disgust voters. To the extent that those voters turn away from the Man in Orange, it could lead to a landslide victory that sets the stage for a more constructive phase of American politics. The danger for the Clinton campaign, however, is that her supporters view her election as a sure thing and not bother to vote. The second risk is that an apparently one-sided election may allow some people to feel like there’s no cost to voting for Gary Johnson. Trump poses too great a danger to democratic government for either of those indulgences.
That’s why it’s so important that Clinton, her campaign, and all of her supporters continue to go full speed through November 8 with no let up and no mercy. Elections ultimately are not decided by polls; the outcomes are determined by who shows up.