Donald Trump just held a press conference prior to a speech in Iowa which was – and I say this without exaggeration – the most bizarre thing I have seen in a lifetime of following politics. It was at once an illustration of why the media fixates on him, and also why the other candidates in the race cannot deal with him.
He opened the conference by yelling at Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, who he claimed asked a question without being called on. He continued to yell at Ramos at some length about being out of turn, then turned to one of his campaign staffers, nodded, and pointed at Ramos, whereupon the staffer removed Ramos from the conference. (Note: I would have zero problem on principle with throwing Ramos out of a press conference on the merits).
The next reporter’s question, naturally, was, “Why did you have him thrown out?” Amazingly, Trump responded to this question, I’m not kidding, by answering, “I didn’t have him thrown out, you’ll have to ask security, whoever they are.” When reporters pressed him with the obvious fact that the person who had him removed was on his staff (he appeared to be wearing a Trump button even, but I can’t swear to that), he immediately changed his tune to say that it was because the reporter was a “highly emotional person,” with no mention of the fact that 30 seconds earlier he had been denying that he had Ramos thrown out at all.
Things only got more bizarre from there. A reporter asked him whether he would self-fund his campaign. Showing a complete inability to grasp campaign finance law (or interest in the details), he said, in effect, “Well, you know, I could, I make $500 million a month, and then at some point the GOP has to come in and run things.”
Trump seemed particularly fixated on Jeb Bush, belittling his standings in the polls and calling him a “low energy person.” He also said, “You know, Jeb Bush has raised $114 million and no one knows who any of his donors are, you can’t find it out!” – apparently unaware that the FEC and numerous other sites contain easily searchable online databases of campaign donors.
Trump continued to field questions about the Ramos ejection. Bizarrely, Trump finally capitulated and seemed eager to field questions from Ramos. “Sure, bring him back in here, I’d love to have him, get him in here in two seconds.” During the middle of Ramos’ question, Trump essentially began bragging that he had sued Univision for $500 million dollars, stating that “I bet your company’s very worried about that.”
Trump’s answer, with regards to literally every other candidate in the race, was that he was leading them in the polls. When asked about Scott Walker, he responded, “When I got in the race, Walker was at 22% and I was at 10%, now I’m at 24% and he’s at about 6% and I think it’s because people got to looking at what is going on in Wisconsin.” That’s a paraphrase but I guarantee contained the absolute substance of the answer.
About FoxNews, Trump complained that he felt they treated him “very poorly.” He said “According to literally every poll I won that debate. I won on Drudge, I won Time,” whereupon he scrunched his face and paused in his uniquely Trumpian way, and was unable to dredge up the name of another poll, but soldiered on nonetheless: “Everyone said I won that debate, but I got the worst questions.” He claimed that Megyn Kelly should apologize to him, not the other way around.
When I think of the gaffes that have sunk other candidates – whether it was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) drinking water, or Rick Perry saying “oops,” George Allen saying “macaca,” or Scott Walker refusing to answer questions that didn’t interest him, it’s amazing to me that Donald Trump is left standing at all.
But then, in another sense, it makes sense. When a homing missile locks in on a target, one of the best way to defeat it is to release a bunch of chaff so the missile gets confused and doesn’t know what to lock on to.
When a politician goofs once, it’s easy for that to get stuck in the feedback loop of the media and other candidates.
Watching Donald Trump speak and answer questions, though, is like watching a billion targets appear in the sky all at once, for a political opponent. Each thing he says is so bizarre, or ill informed, or demonstrably false, or un presidential in tone or character, that it becomes impossible to know which target to lock on to or focus on. And to the extent that he makes a policy statement, it is so hopelessly vague and ludicrous that it’s impossible to know where to begin, at least within the context of the 30-second soundbite that the modern political consumer requires (and chances are, he will say something diametrically opposed to it before the press conference is over anyway).
Donald Trump is the political equivalent of chaff, a billion shiny objects all floating through the sky at once, ephemeral, practically without substance, serving almost exclusively to distract from more important things – yet nonetheless completely impossible to ignore.