Tap the Brakes on That Trump Epitaph

 

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Evaluating the damage of Donald Trump’s “war hero” moment is like weighing how much Benghazi hurts Hillary Clinton.  There is one vital question:  How many votes are actually lost?

Benghazi infuriates millions of Americans who have no intention of supporting her.  If at some future moment, actual Hillary supporters  slap their foreheads and proclaim the last straw, then there will be an actual toll.

It will take some time to determine the extent of Trump’s unforced error at the weekend Family Leadership Summit in Iowa. There is no great additional wound from pundits and rivals who have been on his back for weeks.  The only way he starts bleeding poll numbers is if a large chunk of people who have been loving his bluntness say the McCain moment was simply too much and they are now headed off in search of an alternative.

That won’t be happening immediately.

First, it should be noted what Trump actually said.  The headlines and tweets nailing him for saying McCain is not a war hero are questionable.  As he launched his first reply to Frank Luntz’s mention of McCain’s heroism, he stammered over the words, “He’s not— a war hero,” but then pivoted and said multiple times that he IS a war hero, but for being captured, adding the thoroughly Trump-esque: “I like people who weren’t captured, okay?”

So, if accuracy means anything, it is better to say that Trump mocked or belittled McCain’s war hero status, not that he doubted it.

This distinction means nothing to most people looking for the GOP’s actual nominee.  And this is why this weekend was not the end of the Trump phenomenon.  Most of the people piling on— and he largely deserved it, by the way— were people with a vested interest in hounding him from the race— either analysts who feel dirty at having to cover him or rivals who are frankly concerned about hm and his ability to siphon off their potential voters.

Defenders circled the wagons almost immediately, many taking their own potshots at McCain for more valid reasons— his spotty conservatism and his own unkind references to Trump followers.  It is useful to note that Trump’s sin is viewed as suicide but McCain gets to call a candidate’s entire fan base “crazies” and that’s just fine.

So did this weekend change anything?  Sure.  It ended the suspense over when Trump would say something that amounts to evidence of a temperament unsuited for the Oval Office.  Even his supporters should have known this day would come.  Now that it has, they should begin their search for a Plan B.

But that won’t happen right away.  Gaffe or no gaffe, Trump remains singular in his boldness, honesty and refusal to wrap himself in the numbing glaze that envelops most other candidates.  

He may have another moment or two like the McCain land mine, and it still may not matter much.  There is a segment of America that has too long watched donors, handlers and elites castrate the conservative message in the form of underwhelming, under-inspiring nominees.  Trump is so different and so energizing that even his sudden and probably opportunistic pivot to some conservative positions does not matter to them, and nor will the occasional size 12 Gucci he occasionally extracts from his mouth.

And once again, his enemies should know that if they are particularly shrill or unnerved in their attacks on him, it will only help him, thus delaying the day when his campaign ends.

That day will surely come.  But it will not be when his media tormentors and his competition prefer, and that’s before the first debate, now a mere seventeen days away.

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