Newspaper article International New York Times

Trump in the Dumps

Newspaper article International New York Times

Trump in the Dumps

Article excerpt

If 70 percent of Americans don't like you, is it too late to pivot?

He won't pivot. So I have to.

Having seen Donald Trump as a braggadocious but benign celebrity in New York for decades, I did not regard him as the apotheosis of evil. He seemed more like a toon, a cocky huckster swanning around Gotham with a statuesque woman on his arm and skyscrapers stamped with his brand. I certainly never would have predicted that the Trump name would be uttered in the same breath as Hitler, Mussolini and scary menace, even on such pop culture staples as "The Bachelorette."

Trump jumped into the race with an eruption of bigotry, ranting about Mexican rapists and a Muslim ban. But privately, he assured people that these were merely opening bids in the negotiation; that he was really the same pragmatic New Yorker he had always been; that he would be a flexible, wheeling-and-dealing president, not a crazy nihilist like Ted Cruz or a mean racist like George Wallace. He yearned to be compared to Ronald Reagan, a former TV star who overcame a reputation for bellicosity and racial dog whistles to become the most beloved Republican president of modern times.

Trump was applying his business cunning, Twitter snarkiness and bendy relationship with the truth to his new role as a Republican pol. The opposition was unappetizing: Cruz, a creepy, calculating ideologue; Marco Rubio, a hungry lightweight jettisoning his old positions and mentor; Chris Christie, a vindictive bully; Jeb Bush, a past-his-sell-by-date scion.

When Trump pulled back the curtain on how Washington Republicans had been stringing their voters along for years with bold promises, like repealing Obamacare, that they knew had no chance, it was a rare opportunity to see them called out. And when Trump was blunt about how cheaply you could buy and sell politicians in both parties, it made this town squirm.

His obnoxious use of ethnicity only exposed the fact that Republicans had been using bigotry against minorities and gays to whip up voters for decades. The G.O.P. would love to drop Trump now because it prefers a candidate in the party's more subtle racist traditions.

The neocons calling Trump a fascist would certainly prefer a more militaristic candidate. Trump realized the Iraq war was misbegotten long before much of the media cognoscenti in New York, and he was willing to hold W. accountable for being asleep at the switch before 9/11 and using a bait-and-switch on Iraq. Even though he ranted about the press, he was also far more available to the media than the cloaked Hillary Clinton, who has yet to give a news conference this year. But he undermines his accessibility when he incites nastiness against reporters at his rallies and revokes The Washington Post's credentials for a headline he doesn't like.

Before his campaign became infused with racial grievance, victimhood and violence, Trump told me, "I have fun with life and I understand life and I want to make life better for people. …

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