Politics & Policy

How Far Can Trump Go on Shock Value Alone?

Trump works the crowd in Aiken, S.C., December 12, 2015. (Sean Rayford/Getty)

‘She was favored to win — and she got schlonged. She lost, I mean she lost,” Donald Trump said, describing Hillary Clinton’s 2008 White House bid at a Grand Rapids campaign event Monday night.

This is our presidential race in 2015: “linguistic investigations” into whether the term “schlonged” is accurate Yiddish, consternation over whether it’s unacceptably sexist or vulgar, and the Clinton campaign’s insistence that the remark requires a response from “everyone who understands the humiliation this degrading language inflicts on all women.”

Trump is the race’s shock-jock, a master at gleefully overstepping boundaries we didn’t even know were there, and there’s little reason to think that the “schlonged” comment will hurt his standing in the polls. Nor will we see immediate fallout from Trump’s lengthy assurance on Monday night that he wasn’t going to discuss the “disgusting” bathroom break Clinton took during last Saturday’s Democratic debate. While he’s bobbled the lead in Iowa, Trump is still ahead nationally and in the other early states; so far, the cycle of controversy, outrage, and denunciation hasn’t hurt him.

But does this sort of talk help Trump at all? If it brings him closer to the Republican nomination, what does it say about Republicans? And is there any way it won’t repel a significant number of voters who might otherwise consider supporting the Republican standard-bearer in November 2016?

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The inevitable reply from Trump defenders is that anyone who objects is merely bowing to the false gods of Political Correctness. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen; Trump is just a liberated sage, dropping truth-bombs on a repressed, uptight bourgeoisie. He’s the only one willing to say the emperor has no clothes, or the empress is ugly and should put some clothes back on.

When Trump encounters a female rival, critic, or plain old famous person, he bluntly assesses their appearance. “Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” Trump said about Carly Fiorina. “I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?” He called Fox News’s Megyn Kelly a bimbo, declared Heidi Klum is no longer a “ten,” wrote Gail Collins to tell her she has the face of a dog, said Arianna Huffington is “a dog who wrongfully comments on me,” and deemed Bette Midler “extremely unattractive.”

#share#Trump, who keeps marrying younger, prettier models, repeatedly feels the need to publicly point out his own sexual irresistibility to women. He’s boasted that women find his power almost as much a turn-on as his money, that “All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me — consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected,” and that “the early victories by the women on The Apprentice were, to a very large extent, dependent on their sex appeal.”

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Sure, some people love Trump, the Insult-Comic Candidate, but many others don’t. In a development that could shock only the most blindly faithful Trump supporter, he’s polling terribly among women. In Quinnipiac’s latest poll, only 25 percent of women have a favorable opinion of Trump, compared with 68 percent who view him unfavorably. His lack of appeal to women has remained fairly consistent from pollster to pollster throughout the year.

At what point does Trump recognize he’s already locked up his base, and try to broaden his appeal beyond it? Does he even bother? Has anyone told him that women are a larger segment of the electorate than men — 53 percent in 2012 — and that Mitt Romney won only 44 percent of them? Right now, Trump is getting 33 percent of women in a head-to-head matchup against Clinton, and she’s consistently beating him in head-to-head polling matchups.

#related#Trump fans will insist that such matchups mean nothing at this point in the race, but their man remains unpopular among the general electorate compared with his Republican rivals. Quinnipiac records 58 percent of registered voters believing he has strong leadership qualities. But 58 percent say he’s not honest and trustworthy, 57 percent say he doesn’t care about their needs and problems, and 61 percent say he doesn’t share their values. Only 33 percent of registered voters say they have a favorable opinion of Trump, compared with 59 percent who view him unfavorably. Half of all respondents said they would feel embarrassed to have Trump as president.

Are more insults going to fix that perception problem? Can you win a majority of electoral votes while running around the country sounding like a hybrid of Andrew Dice Clay and Don Rickles? And if that style leads the Republican party to its third consecutive defeat in a presidential election, who’s really getting “schlonged”?

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.

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