As Donald flies ever higher, the rules of political gravity might yet catch up with him
For the most part, US presidential campaigns are long slogs punctuated by short gaffes. Then there's Donald Trump.
The rules of political gravity do not apply to him. From insulting Senator John McCain for getting captured in Vietnam to flubbing Jake Tapper's question about the Ku Klux Klan, Trump's 2016 campaign has been an extended gaffe.
At this week's Republican debate, Trump gave us plenty of head-scratchers. He said for example that the wives of 9/11 hijackers were whisked out of the country before 9/11. This was in response to a question about his earlier remark that he would not only go after terrorists as commander-in-chief, but that he would also target their families.
Then there was Trump University. In an exchange with Marco Rubio, Trump said the students of his for-profit college gave it high marks and then said he had reimbursed many of the students who asked for their money back. And let's not forget Trump's suggestion that allegations that his hands were small had no correlation to the size of his penis.
So far, these kinds of gaffes have had no effect. Indeed, it is part of Trump's appeal. He tells it like it is. He's not afraid to say things that are politically incorrect. Unlike career politicians, Trump is unscripted. Sure, the Beltway mandarins are sickened at the thought of deporting millions of illegal immigrants, but this is exactly the kind of policy the Republican base desires. As Michael Kinsley famously observed, a gaffe in Washington is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. But this game works only if we assume Trump means the shocking things he says. There's a good chance he doesn't.
This was a theme in the debate. Ted Cruz attacked Trump three times for writing checks to Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. He asked how he could have supported someone on the other side of the migration issue.
Rubio reiterated his line that Trump is a con man, willing to scam the suckers who enrolled in his for-profit university the same way he is scamming Republican primary voters.
It was the Fox News moderators however who really drove this point home. First, they asked him about an off-the-record interview he gave to the 'New York Times'. Buzzfeed reported this week that Trump in January told the paper that his positions on immigration were flexible. Then the moderators played clips of Trump contradicting himself in television interviews on whether he supported the Afghanistan war and allowing Syrian refugees into the US.
Trump's response was not very Trumpian. He tried to explain that he may have said different things to different people, but that was only because he had meant to be consistent.
When questioned about his contradictions, the unscripted outsider dissembled. Trump sounded evasive and uncertain.
He sounded like a politician, for whom the rules of political gravity may still apply.