Yes, there has been good news on the polling front for Hillary Clinton. Really good news. But forget it. Don’t get confident at all. Why? Obviously because there is a long way to go. But beyond that, there is what happened this morning on MSNBC and CNN regarding Trump’s delusional claim that he saw a video—provided by Iran, he said, to “embarrass” our country and our “incompetent” president—of Obama’s “ransom” money being taken off a plane in exchange for hostages.
I turned on CNN at 9:00am. I found the top story was Donald Trump’s early morning tweet trying to correct the record:
The plane I saw on television was the hostage plane in Geneva, Switzerland, not the plane carrying $400 million in cash going to Iran!
The anchor, Carol Costello, said the tweet was “a possible sign that Trump is moderating a bit.” It was, she continued, “a simple acknowledgement that’s causing big ripples this morning.” She introduced CNN correspondent Phil Mattingly who reiterated the “big ripples” riff and told us that Trump’s advisers are saying the candidate has an opportunity “to get back on message.”
At the exact same time, on MSNBC, anchor Chris Jansing also led with the Trump tweet, asking, “Is this the start of the new Donald Trump?” And a correspondent kept referring to Trump’s prior claims of seeing a video that does not exist as “misstatements.”
No. They weren’t misstatements. They weren’t mistakes. They were delusions. He didn’t see what he claimed he saw because what he claimed he saw does not exist. And, no, Trump is not “moderating a bit” by admitting the obvious. And the only reason the tweet this morning caused “big ripples” is because television journalism is a shallow pond that Trump can drop pebble-tweets into and know that the ripples will be big and will last all day.
But it is Chris Jansing’s question that should bother us all, at least those of us concerned that television journalists, who for weeks now have been trying to get Donald Trump to do exactly what he did today with that tweet, will attempt to rehabilitate a sick candidate, if not a sick, sick man. Jansing’s “Is this the start of the new Donald Trump?” is a dumb and dumbing question.
Trump is 70 years old. There isn’t a new Donald Trump hiding behind a tree waiting to pop out and say, “Joke’s on you! I was just kidding when I said all that crazy shit! Here I am now ready to get serious! Let’s talk throw-weight and ballistic missiles!” Beyond that absurdity, though, Jansing’s question is dumbing because it lowers the standards of critical analysis that we should expect of journalists, if not voters. The man has demonstrated for more than a year that he would be, as former CIA honcho Mike Morell said this morning in The New York Times, “a poor, even dangerous, commander in chief.” You can’t unsay and undo all Trump has said and done by a couple of “oops!” tweets.
Mike Morell is a highly respected, non-partisan Serious Man. He was George W. Bush’s top briefer before, during, and after 9/11. He also helped President Obama and his team, as they made the decision to make fish bait out of Osama bin Laden. Morell says his “training as an intelligence officer” taught him to call it as he sees it, and his opinion dispels any notion of a Trump reset. Like all of us of sound mind, Morell has noticed Trump’s character traits:
These traits include his obvious need for self-aggrandizement, his overreaction to perceived slights, his tendency to make decisions based on intuition, his refusal to change his views based on new information, his routine carelessness with the facts, his unwillingness to listen to others and his lack of respect for the rule of law.
And the logical conclusion, from the former acting director of the CIA, follows:
The dangers that flow from Mr. Trump’s character are not just risks that would emerge if he became president. It is already damaging our national security.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.
Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.
In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.
That sobering assessment of Trump does not allow for a “new” Trump to emerge. It does not permit journalists to ignore an ugly Trump Past for a supposedly better-looking Trump Future. But because television journalism depends so much on a close horse race to get high ratings, look for some talking heads on TV to try to convince us—if Trump makes an effort to even slightly curb his enthusiasm for delusions and conspiracies and lies—that he is “growing” as a candidate.
Thus, even as Clinton soars in the polls right now, Democrats have to keep fighting hard until November. Because as good as her numbers are today, we should expect the race to tighten back up. And when it does, we should expect some journalists to pronounce Trump a “new” man and ignore the strange and dangerous man we have come to know.