You’d think Donald Trump would love the Olympics: The flag-waving pageantry, the pure, unbridled patriotism—and, my god, the winning. So much winning you almost get tired of the winning.
But actually, Trump doesn’t seem to be interested in the Olympics at all: As Team USA shatters world records and scores win after historic win, Trump’s Twitter account, his favored megaphone, has been virtually mum. Since the one awkwardly worded meme he blasted out to his feed on August 5, with his own photo in front of an American flag, Trump has tweeted about the Olympics exactly zero times. He’s attacked the media, retweeted compliments to Donald Trump, pumped up his rallies. Not a word about the events that people are tuning into every night.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is seizing the opportunity to ride the wave of these feel-good Olympics. Since the start of the Rio Games, the Clinton campaign has unleashed a steady flow of social media messages congratulating the athletes and embracing their stories. And she has deliberately piled on by peppering the Olympics broadcast commercial breaks with the same brutal ad, over and over—the one that shows Trump being ridiculed on Letterman for making his clothing lines overseas.
Why has Trump hit the mute button on the Olympics, while Clinton has pumped up the volume? There’s a good reason for that, and a surprising one. The spectacle of America vanquishing its global rivals is—ironically, amazingly—utterly terrible for the “America First” candidate.
A big part of his political message, the one you hear at his stump speeches, is that America has grown weak. America doesn’t win anymore, he says. “Crippled America” is the title of his most recent book. He alone can Make America Great Again. As someone who’s been around a few campaigns, believe me: The Olympics is about the worst thing that could have happened to the Trump train. Here’s a candidate whose message depends entirely on convincing Americans that they’re living in a failing nation overrun by criminal immigrants. And for the past two weeks, tens of millions of Americans have been glued to a multi-ethnic parade of athletes, winning easily. “Make America Great Again” has never felt more out-of-touch than it does against the backdrop of tenacious, overachieving American athletes driven by their own journeys in pursuit of the American dream.