In one of the strangest occurrences of the 2016 Presidential Election marathon, the strongest Republican candidate this century was redefined by his opponent’s campaign team in the simplest way possible. So simple that it is almost laughable at how it came to be and how easily played it was.
So easily that I am reminded of that terrible scene in The Godfather, when Sonny Corleone (played by James Caan) is told on the phone by his sister that she was again beaten to a pulp by her weasel-like husband, Carlo, and she needs help. Rather than consider why his beloved sister, Connie, was beaten just a few hours earlier while he is in the middle of a mafia gang war, Sonny responds the only way he knows how – he hops in his own car to go give Carlo an even worse beating or kill him. Instead of arriving safely at Carlo’s house, Sonny is massacred by a hundred machine-gun rounds on the New York Thruway. We never saw the happy, but hot-headed and restless Sonny ever again.
What happened to Republican Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump between his acceptance speech in Cleveland and the night before his opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, delivered her acceptance speech is a mystery. After delivering a well-received speech and a few surprises like coming out in full-throated support of protecting the LGBTQ community from foreign terrorists, Mr. Trump was in good position to get a good statistical bump in the post-Republican National Convention polling and to survive any spike in Clinton support after the Democrats’ own convention.
However, instead of simply getting some rest and making a few television appearances to make sure folks knew he was still alive – Mr. Trump decided to go full La Cosa Nostra and hit the heads of the five families. Ted Cruz, John McCain, Paul Ryan, Kelly Ayotte and the Republican National Committee were all knee-capped by the Republican Presidential nominee within days of his acceptance speech and after indicating that he might be okay with losing the House and Senate, things would get worse.
In a simple stroke of deceptively good decision-making, the Hillary Clinton campaign team realized that Mr. Trump left his convention in fine shape and actually looked Presidential. The American voting public saw someone who could take the Presidential stage, fill it with glitz and glamour, deliver a strong and memorable speech and then not be made to look small like a Michael Dukakis or a guilt-ridden sacrificial lamb like Mitt Romney.
Mr. Trump had came up with the most American of slogans (“Make America Great Again”), sold it on the great American fashion statement (the baseball cap) and then made sure that through his “America First” treatise and telling people that jobs were coming home and our military would get only bigger and better – he became the candidate who loved his country while his opponent didn’t. Mr. Trump talked about the veterans so much that one may have imagined he would disband the Veterans Administration and create a brand new version with the official Trump logo on the letterhead.
Mr. Trump was to be the “most American” of our American Presidential candidates in a year when we have a foreign terroristic enemy hitting our homeland and an economy that seems like quicksand to the middle class. Donald J. Trump, a patriot’s patriot will fix it all – just trust him!
The Democratic National Committee watched all this for over a year and partnered with the Clinton campaign to come up with the ultimate irony and plot – to make Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump become the one anathema that most Americans and especially Republicans cannot stomach. A military-disrespecting, unpatriotic and un-American politician. They would seek to get Trump to destroy his brand and his candidacy with his famous temper and by his own hands.
In a stroke of genius, the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign put Mr. Khizr and Mrs. Ghazala Khan, kindly Muslim American father and mother of a fallen American army officer on the convention stage in Philadelphia. The choice of the Kahn family was not accidental as Mr. Trump has made reducing Muslim immigration a favored campaign policy.
Mr. Kahn eloquently spoke and tarred Mr. Trump with all kinds of un-American actions including charges including a desire to deport his now Army officer son if the nominee would have had the chance. Mr. Khan did this while having a pocket-copy of a U.S. Constitution that he happened to remember was in his jacket while riding in a cab on the way to his speech, as said to CNN’s Don Lemon in an interview. Mr. Khan’s speech was quite memorable and charges aside, was very moving and he did represent his son’s heroic memory quite well. Mrs. Khan did not speak, but then again how many parents could do just that in front of millions of people watching on television or the thousands inside the arena? How many parents could talk about their child who was killed in combat by an evil enemy we are still fighting today… and then use their son’s heartfelt memory to charge a Presidential candidate with not reading the very Constitution he may swearing to uphold and defend in five months?
Once Mr. and Mrs. Khan told the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton’s campaign that they would like to speak at the Convention and attack Mr. Trump, they knew that they and their heroic son would become political chess pieces. Mr. Khan, a Harvard Law School graduate, and Mrs. Khan, a doctor, are too intelligent and wise to not know what would come after they left the stage in Philadelphia. The DNC and Mrs. Clinton’s campaign sure as heck knew what would happen next even if the Khans and Mr. Trump did not.
The DNC and the Clinton team knew the hot-headed Trump would go full-Sonny Corleone and come out swinging hard at the Khans for what Khizr Khan accused him of in front of millions of people around the world watching on television. That Donald J. Trump, who was going to “Make America Great Again” and be the most American of Presidential candidate, was… Un-American. Being Un-American in the Republican Party is unforgivable. Accusing Mr. Trump of anything unflattering or not provable by evidence is more so. Thinking that Mr. Trump would be able to just ignore what Mr. Kahn said about and to him and just letting it go as 99.9% of candidates would do? That is unthinkable and unforgivable to Donald J. Trump.
After Mr. Kahn’s DNC speech Mr. Trump was interviewed by George Stephanopoulos and said the following, “I saw him. He was very emotional, and probably looked like a nice guy to me. His wife, if you look at his wife she was standing there, she had nothing to say. Probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say, you tell me, but plenty of people have written that. She was extremely quiet and it looked like she had nothing to say, a lot of people have said that, and personally I watched him, I wish him the best of luck.” By thinking he was defending himself, he ended up attacking a Gold Star Mom and her family. Simply put, you never ever do that. You thank them for their tragic sacrifice and you move on.
Based on how he fought to get the Republican nomination, keep it against a tide of dissenters and then go after anyone who did not pledge full allegiance to his candidacy was how Mr. Trump wrote his opponents’ playbook to defeat him. For, after a Democratic nomination campaign that included a “chance meeting” between Mrs. Clinton’s husband and our sitting U.S. Attorney General on an airplane tarmac during an FBI investigation, this campaign is already showing signs of a Mario Puzo novel.
As the Khan affair fades into the sunset, the bigger questions now are whether the Republican candidate for President realizes that he damaged his greatest strength – “Make America Great Again”; and whether he can go against his hot-headed nature and decide that he must become more like the steely and crafty Michael Corleone. Because Sonny is already dead and Fredo is not an option.