Is Trump the political genius that some have been hinting? Who else, without staff or experience, could rocket to the top of the polls and remain in that perch month after month despite everything? Maybe it’s genius, or maybe its shamelessness. The latter can be mistaken for the former. This week’s new slog in the mud demonstrates one of Trump’s techniques to perfection — he flings filth at an opponent and then invites the docile press to conclude that “both sides” are engaged in unseemly brawling. (This is usually John Kasich’s moment to shake his head sadly and remind voters that, golly gee, he would never do such things.)
The “wife spat” began, as these things always do, with a Trump shiv. An independent PAC, Make America Awesome, published practically nude pictures — fully available in the public domain — of Melania Trump from a GQ photo shoot from the early 2000s, and invited viewers to consider whether someone who posed for such pictures would make an appropriate first lady. Trump then grabbed this small ad as excuse to hurl accusations at one of his opponents (wonder why he didn’t accuse Kasich?), tweeting that he believed Cruz to be responsible for the ad and threatening to “spill the beans” about Heidi Cruz if Cruz weren’t “careful.”
Cruz had nothing to do the the Make America Awesome ad. But before getting to the rest of the imbroglio, and at the risk of seeming utterly Victorian in this sorry time, it seems to me that Melania’s history as a nude model is not completely out of bounds as an election issue for voters. In an era when Paris Hilton becomes a household name for being featured in a sex tape, it seems antique to note that for many Americans, even today, posing nude is not the sort of thing we can imagine in a First Lady. It is part of the package that makes Trump himself such a sleazy figure. He clearly wanted the world to see his wife’s body the better to show off. He recognizes no zones of privacy so long as it feeds his ravenous and unslakeable ego appetites. The Trumps chose to advertise her body to provoke envy among other men. Trump is in a poor position to complain now that it is illegitimate when those very same pictures provoke dismay and doubts among potential voters (particularly women).
Further soiling himself, Trump then tweeted (or retweeted) an unattractive candid of Heidi Cruz in a split screen with glamor shot of his own wife — precisely the sort of fifth grade, low-rent “mine is better than yours” one-upsmanship that he mistakes for strength.
Heidi Cruz happens to be an attractive woman, but that’s beside the point. Trump is such a shallow, low human being that he cannot get beyond judging others on their appearance. Basic decent manners forbid commenting on others looks except in the mildest way. “What a lovely dress!” or “That color suits you.” Polite people remember to see others in full — as professionals, wives, mothers, sisters, volunteers, patients, teachers and so forth. Trump is obsessed with people’s looks. He has disdained countless formidable and impressive women for their looks (remember what he said about Carly Fiorina?), and even when searching for kind things to say about his late brother, he lingered quite a while on how handsome he was. At a meeting with the editorial board of the Washington Post, after being asked about using tactical nuclear weapons against ISIS, Trump offered that “this is pretty great looking group.” As with other Trump traits, this is disturbing.
But now we come to the crux: Trump has figured out that he can violate every rule of decency and integrity without paying much of a price, AND that he can pull others in confident in the knowledge that they will not be judged by the same lax standards. So the thrice married man who has boasted of his many affairs with married women, among others, apparently helped to leak a story about Ted Cruz sleeping around to the National Enquirer (owned by a Trump friend). Cue the press to present the question as he said/he said. Lawsuits will fly, but Trump is used to that. He’s spent the better part of his life in one lawsuit or another. Cruz responds with fury at the transparently low hit and Trump smirks, tweeting that Cruz seems to have mental health issues. Someone does have mental health issues here, but it isn’t Ted Cruz.
Now would seem to be an excellent moment for every Republican who has endorsed Trump to withdraw their endorsements, and for every Republican who hopes that the Party can somehow emerge from this sewer with a shred of dignity to join #Never Trump.