Last week, Donald Trump proclaimed that “the shackles have been taken off me.” He wasn’t kidding.
Unshackled, Trump has responded affirmatively to cries of “lock [Hillary]’ up” (the shackled Trump used to respond “defeat her”). He has attacked the physical appearance of a woman who accused him of sexual touching. And he claims that such allegations are part — not just of collaboration with Democrats and the media, which is plausible — but of a global conspiracy.
Pundits offer various theories for why Trump has gone in this bizarre direction. Is he trying to lay the foundation for an alt-right media empire? Is he trying to take down the Republican party? Does he think, somehow, that this unshackled approach will improve his electoral prospects? Or is he just very, very angry?
None of these explanations should be dismissed, but none is necessary. The most obvious explanation is also the primary one: this is who Trump is and who he wants to be — a nasty, vicious authoritarian.
If Trump’s antics hurt the GOP, I’m confident he will consider this an added benefit. Trump is contemptuous of Republicans. He believes we are “just too crazy.”
This year, we proved him correct. We lived up to our billing as the stupid party.
With Trump as our leader, we would also become the vile party. Stupid is one thing; stupid and vile would go too far.
How much will Trump damage congressional Republicans this year? Less than I suspect he’d like. Senate and House incumbents are known to their constituents, who can easily distinguish them from Trump. When Trump attacks them, either individually or as a class, he reinforces the distinction.
Trump nonetheless poses a dilemma for folks like Kelly Ayotte: denounce Trump and alienate his voters or don’t denounce him and alienate some swing female voters. In a close election, Trump might pull a few incumbents down. This could make all the difference when it comes to control of the Senate.
However, as Trump’s defeat comes to seem inevitable, a different dynamic kicks in. Hillary Clinton is massively unpopular and voters don’t want to give her a “blank check.” Thus, incumbents like Ayotte, Ron Johnson, Pat Toomey, and Richard Burr may benefit.
I’m pretty sure that Republican congressional candidates would prefer a more traditional nominee and, short of that, a “shackled” Trump — like the one who was running even with Clinton before he screwed up in the first debate. But even those in tight races will believe, not without cause, that they can overcome the Choke Artist’s antics and prevail in November.
NOTE: This post has been slightly modified from the original.