Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Politics

Anything-goes campaign is an alarming precedent

WASHINGTON — When Donald Trump descended on the capital Friday, he was expected to finally concede that the racially tinged falsehood he had gleefully propagated, that President Barack Obama was born outside of the United States, had in fact been a lie.

But before Trump got around to what was a grudging and terse admission, which itself included a falsehood about the provenance of birtherism, he had some business to tend to.

"Nice hotel," said Trump, the Republican nominee for president, delighting in his newest property and the opportunity to plug it for free on live television.

In fact, this past week offered a vivid illustration of how little regard Trump has for the long-held expectations of America's leaders. He is not only breaking the country's political traditions, he and his campaign aides are now all but mocking them.

Besides using his campaign as a platform to make money on a new hotel, Trump leveled an untrue assertion that Hillary Clinton had been the first to claim Obama was born abroad. He also boasted about his health on the show of a daytime television celebrity while releasing just his testosterone levels and a few other details about his well-being.

Trump also continued to flout 40 years of tradition by refusing to release his tax returns, a decision that his eldest son admitted last week was not based on an audit, as Trump has repeatedly claimed, but on a desire not to "distract" from the campaign's "main message."

He also mocked an African-American pastor who had just welcomed him to her church, and again referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who once said she had Native American roots, as "Pocahontas."

And that was all before Friday night, when Trump hinted at violence against Clinton by inviting her Secret Service detail to disarm "and see what happens to her."

Routine falsehoods, unfounded claims and inflammatory language have long been staples of Trump's anything-goes campaign. But as the polls tighten and November nears, his behavior, and the implications for the country should he become president, are alarming veteran political observers.

"It's frightening," said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota. "Our politics, because of him, is descending to the level of a Third World country. There's just nothing beneath him. And I don't know why we would think he would change if he became president. That's what's really scary."

Trump's advocates insist that the critics are missing the larger impact of his candidacy and how his campaign and presidency could be a force for good. As a New York Times-CBS poll released recently indicated, voters see him as more likely to aggressively confront what they see as a rotten political system.

"On the things that are really big, he will in some clumsy way force real change," said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, who is an adviser to Trump. "Washington won't be the same when he's done."

But that is what is so worrisome to many observers of Trump's rise. His critics fear that his norm-breaking campaign portends a political future in which candidates pay no penalty for unabashedly telling untruths, disregarding the public's right to know, and lobbing racially charged accusations.

"I worry that if those of us in politics and the media don't do a lot of soul-searching after this election, a slightly smarter Trump will succeed in the future," said Jon Favreau, Obama's former chief speechwriter. "For some politicians and consultants, the takeaway from this election will be that they can get away with almost anything."

As Martin Nolan, a former editor and reporter at the Boston Globe who has chronicled politics for more than 50 years put it: "Truth has a low priority in the misnomer known as reality TV."

"Rules," Nolan added, "are for losers."

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