For the last couple of days I have been saying that it was a mistake for Trump’s handlers to put him on the TelePrompTer so much. I argued that at this point, given how far Trump has fallen behind, being boring was a mistake and eliminated his only chance to catch up with Clinton. I said it’s time to let Trump be Trump.
Clearly, as I often have been when it comes to Trump, I was wrong.
I have watched Trump’s remarks about “Second Amdendment people,” including the full context, about a dozen times. I think there are a couple of ridiculous explanations being put out there for Trump’s comments. The first, which is being put out there by the Trump campaign, was that Trump was talking about Second Amendment supporters utilizing their political power. For one thing, you would have to really squint hard to view that as an even possible interpretation of the sentence in isolation, given that the most natural meaning of the words would suggest, you know, the use of guns. But the full context of Trump’s remarks makes it clear that he is explicitly saying that if Hillary is elected, they will not be able to undo her actions politically. Take a look:
Trump’s full comments on the Second Amendment today: pic.twitter.com/uuTNfF0jJA
— Ashley Killough (@KilloughCNN) August 9, 2016
The entire point that Trump was making (insofar as his meandering word salad can be said to have been meandering towards a point) is that once Hillary is elected, it’s all over politically. There is nothing you can do. Once those judges are seated, it’s ballgame over. That’s exactly the scare tactic he is using here, is that electing him is the last firewall second amendment supporters have. For him and his campaign to come back after all this and suggest, “oh, we were talking about them using their political power” is a little disingenuous.
The second interpretation, set forth by the Clinton campaign, is that Trump was suggesting that his supporters should literally shoot Hillary Clinton if she were elected. If he were really going to call on people to assassinate Clinton, this would sure as hell be a weird way to do it. It looked, to me, like Trump was trying to be droll or humorous, he just failed to do it in a way that was in accordance with basic decency, good taste, or good judgment. Remember that Trump does not really understand conservatives or how they think; he has the same level of understanding (and contempt) of them that the average writer at Salon.com has, and is trying (badly) to pretend to be one of them. So he thinks, “these yokels will appreciate a good joke about how Second Amendment supporters can always shoot people they don’t agree with, they will like that” and cracks it off without a second thought.
Of course, the fact that Donald Trump did not actually want any of his supporters to shoot Hillary Clinton does not make his remarks okay in any way. Obviously, people tend to get a bit tetchy when you start talking about shooting people who are running for President (and yes, just in case it is not obvious, I am deliberately using sarcastic understatement). Especially since this year and this election has a more 1968 feel to it than any other election in recent history. Especially since Trump’s supporters have shown a repeated propensity to engage in violence (without showing any remorse) against Trump’s political enemies. Trump almost certainly did not mean that he wanted anyone to shoot Hillary Clinton; whether any or all of his supporters grasp that is a completely different question, and his subsequent denials don’t really help because his more deranged supporters will just assume he is doing that for political expediency. Clinton’s supporters are right to blast Trump for doing this, even if it was a horribly conceived off-the-cuff joke (as I think it clearly was).
All this goes to show, though, that Trump simply cannot be trusted to maintain message discipline without being almost physically chained to a TelePrompTer. And when Trump breaks message discipline, he doesn’t do it it in such a way that it’s just amusing or exasperating, he does it in such a way that it causes huge, rippling collateral damage to anyone standing within a ten-mile radius. Which, by the way, every elected Republican in Congress is doing, at least metaphorically.
It no longer seems possible that Trump will be able to dig himself out of the hole he is in, electorally speaking. The only thing that’s left for Trump to do is to mitigate the fallout to everyone else. And if the end result is that Trump is boring and uninspiring along the way, so be it.