The only man who can beat Trump.

Photographer: Mark Wallheiser

Trump's Worst Enemy

Clive Crook is a Bloomberg View columnist and writes editorials on economics, finance and politics. He was chief Washington commentator for the Financial Times, a correspondent and editor for the Economist and a senior editor at the Atlantic. He previously served as an official in the British finance ministry and the Government Economic Service.
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Perhaps Donald Trump will come to America's rescue after all. The past week leaves no doubt, at least, that the biggest threat to Trump's campaign for the presidency is Trump.

For days, quite unbelievably, he's been criticizing the Muslim parents of a U.S. soldier who died a hero's death in Iraq.

Khizr Khan's attack on Trump at the Democratic convention was damaging and memorable, but needn't have made much difference to Trump's prospects. As deeply moving as Khan’s words were, what he said was not all that convincing on the substance. "Have you even read the Constitution?" he asked. Trump's fluctuating proposals on immigration might be dumb policy, but in their most recent versions they aren't unconstitutional. Obviously, though, this didn't matter. You don't disrespect the father of a fallen hero, even if he comes after you. You suck it up.

All Trump had to do was thank the Khans for their sacrifice, praise their love of America and its Constitution, and respectfully mention that his concerns about Muslim immigration had nothing to do with outstanding citizens like them. If that was too complicated, saying nothing at all would have served pretty well. All vanity and no empathy, he was capable of neither. The man went so far as to contrast his own sacrifices with theirs.

Even now, I think, a fulsome apology might undo some of the harm. Fortunately, he seems incapable of that too.

As the most recent polling suggests, this may finally cross the  line for many of Trump's supporters. The Trumpists I have in mind detest Hillary Clinton and the country's entire political class, including if not especially its mainstream press. That's why, up to now, the hyperventilating coverage of Trump, to be contrasted with the forgiving accounts of Clinton's supposedly historic campaign, have helped rather than hurt the insurgent.  They've served to validate the Trumpists' view that the whole system needs a good kicking.

Trump's disrespect for the Khans isn't important because it crosses a line for most of the press. Trump's vulgarity crossed that line before he even began campaigning. Instead, his disrespect matters because it cannot be squared with the patriotism and regard for real sacrifice upheld by many Trump supporters. Even if they cannot stomach the idea of President Clinton, or of seeming to bend to the views of an elite they despise, Trump has just given them pause. He's given license, as well, for Republican leaders to finally denounce and disown him, even if that means electing Clinton.

It isn't over. Trump remains a powerful vessel for anti-elitist discontent. Clinton, that elite’s perfect representative, remains perhaps the worst candidate the Democrats could have fielded against him -- and the press, as I say, is aiding him rather than holding him back. Even after Trump's disgusting assault on the Khans, he's still registering 40 percent in the polls. But I'm more optimistic than I was two weeks ago.

Clinton isn't beating Trump. The press isn't beating Trump. But there's hope: Trump, all by himself, may get the job done.

 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Clive Crook at ccrook5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
James Gibney at jgibney5@bloomberg.net