By Barbara Slavin
Maybe Donald Trump is a closet Hillary Clinton supporter.
That’s one possible explanation for why the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has kept digging himself into a giant political hole even as Clinton on Monday clinched the 2,383 delegates required for the Democratic nomination.
Like an animal that keeps gnawing at a wound, Trump cannot let go of his animus toward Gonzalo Curiel, a U.S. District Court judge in Southern California. It was Trump who first mentioned Curiel in a campaign speech in San Diego last week, asserting that the judge’s ethnic heritage as the American-born son of Mexican immigrants meant he was not capable of acting fairly in a suit involving the real estate mogul’s defunct Trump University.
Trump’s initial comment was in line with a flood of racist remarks dating to the beginning of his campaign a year ago when he claimed that many illegal Mexican immigrants were rapists and murderers and vowed to build a wall – that Mexico would pay for – to keep illegals out. Trump has gone on to denigrate women and Muslims, disabled people and journalists who have had the temerity to question his divisive rhetoric and false statements.
What has shocked the political world in recent days is that Trump has continued to go after Curiel even as Clinton has pivoted toward the general election.
Perhaps this is because Trump could think of no other response to the former secretary of state’s bravura speech last week in which she demolished Trump’s ill-formed foreign policy ideas and warned that Trump was not qualified to sit in the White House situation room and make life or death decisions. Trump has confined himself to hurling Clinton’s insults back at her in a series of petulant tweets.
This shockingly poor performance appears to be convincing some Republican officeholders who had reluctantly endorsed Trump to consider jumping ship.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina urged those who have endorsed Trump to rescind their support to demonstrate their condemnation of Trump’s racism and even suggested that Republicans may decide to vote for Clinton instead.
“This is the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy,” Graham told the New York Times, comparing Trump’s remarks about Curiel to the anti-Communist witch hunts of Wisconsin Sen. McCarthy in the 1950’s. “If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it,” he added. “There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.”
Clinton remains unpopular among many Americans and still must make peace with rival Bernie Sanders, who has continued to insist — against reality — that he has a shot at the Democratic nomination. Trump will undoubtedly use Sanders’ criticism of Clinton for making lucrative Wall Street speeches as a way to back up the hashtag #CrookedHillary. Clinton is likely to retaliate with references to Trump University, where high-pressure salesmen convinced “students” to max out credit cards in return for courses of dubious value.
Since he won enough delegates to claim the nomination, Trump has received many offers from experienced Republican politicians to help him formulate a platform suitable for the general election. But he clearly hasn’t been listening and continues to countermand members of his small staff who have been trying to redirect the campaign in a more professional direction.
Having defeated 16 Republican rivals for the nomination, Trump appears to believe that his best chance of winning the presidency is by continuing to use the same guerrilla tactics that worked in GOP primaries and caucuses. The general electorate, however, is far more diverse than the largely old white male cohort that has until now supported Trump.
Meanwhile, senior Republicans who had only just made an awkward peace with the presumptive nominee are getting queasy. That includes figures on a possible short list to be chosen as Trump’s vice presidential running mate.
Appearing Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee – who only two days earlier had praised Trump’s “maturity” and foreign policy realism — appeared to have second thoughts.
Trump has “no doubt, missed an incredible opportunity,” Corker, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said. “He still has time to pivot. He does. Time is running short… I just encourage him because of the negative trajectory that our country is on today to take advantage and know that there are people everywhere that would come to his aid if he would do that. And I’m hoping he’s going to do that and I’m going to continue to encourage it until it’s too late.”
One-time presidential hopeful and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich put it best when he told the Christian Broadcasting Network on Monday that “the person who’s most likely to beat Donald Trump is Donald Trump.”
Barbara Slavin is Acting Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington.