For months now, Donald Trump has flirted with the prospect of transforming his cult of personality into the real thing. He is now testing the faith of his followers in some rather unprecedented ways. Judging from his behavior, it is difficult for the rational observer to avoid concluding that the likely GOP nominee has very little interest in actually winning the White House in November.
Trump’s recent test of his most faithful adherents began at a rally on July 6. The event occurred just one day after Hillary Clinton was excoriated by the director of the FBI for deliberately misleading the public regarding her “homebrew” email server and for her “extremely careless” behavior, which may very well have exposed American secrets to hostile foreign actors. A few minutes into his rambling event—in which Trump doubled down on his praise for Saddam Hussein’s brutality and defended his campaign’s decision to tweet a graphic allegedly created by users of an anti-Semitic message board—he pivoted briefly to the struggles of his presumptive general election opponent. But only briefly.
“They wanted me to talk about Hillary for—you know, for hours,” Trump said with exasperation. “She’s crooked Hillary. That’s all you have to know. She’s crooked as hell.” Nearly an hour later, he made another revealing admission. Trump confessed that he had not devoted much attention to Clinton because he felt that it was an obligation, and a “boring” one at that. What’s more likely is that the tiresome work of positioning himself against his opponent fails to excite the audience in the room. Trump enjoys the adulation of fawning crowds, and he is bored by the chores associated with the work of winning elections.
If you are still onboard the Trump Train, you have passed this test. But your trials are far from over.
Trump has determined to elevate his grudge against the political press to a central campaign issue. “A substantial part of the campaign is going to be–if you think the news media is honest and fair and totally neutral, then you ought to vote for Hillary. But if you think the news media is biased, then join me,” said Trump-whisperer and potential vice presidential nominee, Newt Gingrich. The former House Speaker later told the Washington Post that Trump “has concluded that you guys in the media will kill him unless he destroys your credibility.”
That will surely thrill conservatives who have no love lost for the media, but to apply a little critical thought to this declaration of war on the press is to become very unnerved about the course the Trump campaign is choosing.
According to Fox News’ reporting, Donald Trump is slashing the number of media appearances he was scheduled to do on other networks besides Fox News. “Trump is no longer appearing on CNN or MSNBC. He is staying off the Sunday talk shows,” Fox media reporter Howard Kurtz observed. “Nearly all his national television interviews since June 1 have been with Fox News.”
Trump has repeatedly said that his ability to generate free press will compensate for his lack of campaign infrastructure and fundraising deficiencies. “I just don’t think I need nearly as much money as other people need because I get so much publicity,” Trump insisted in June in the effort to calm frayed nerves over a dismal quarterly fundraising disclosure. “I get so many invitations to be on television. I get so many interviews if I want them.” Not anymore. For now, it seems as though he is abandoning all forms of outreach to voters who are not already committed Republicans.
Ah, but to dissect Trump’s logic is to betray a disturbing lack of zeal for the cause. Those who persist in thinking critically about the presumptive nominee’s strategy prove themselves unworthy of his light.
For those who are still awed by the Trump phenomenon, there is a third and final test. According to the New York Times, neither Donald Trump nor his closest allies can say for sure whether he would serve as president even if he were elected. “I’ll let you know how I feel about it after it happens,” Trump said when asked if he would serve should he win the election. Even Trump’s close advisor with only plausibly deniable links to the campaign, Roger Stone, could not say for sure if Trump would honor the will of the voters in November by serving in the White House.
If all of this has washed off your back, then you are truly a committed member of Donald Trump’s “silent majority.” For the rest of the nation, this is starting to look a lot less like a presidential campaign or even a social movement and a lot more like something far less noble.