I don’t know what kind of weekend you had, but it’s a safe bet it wasn’t half as extraordinary as Republican presidential contender Donald Trump’s.
It started, oddly enough, late Friday – a time best known for “news dumps” in which prominent figures release news they hope no one will ever see. Trump, still annoyed by the Fox News moderators going after him on Thursday night, decided to return the favor by targeting the network host who pressed him the night before.
Before dawn, he had retweeted a post calling [Fox’s Megyn Kelly] a “bimbo.” The post was later deleted, but on Friday evening Trump called Kelly a “lightweight.”“She’s not very tough and not very sharp,” Trump said during a phone interview on CNN. “I don’t respect her as a journalist.” Referring to Kelly’s questions during the debate, Trump said, “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
For most observers, it seemed Trump was making some kind of reference to menstruation. Eventually, the GOP candidate insisted that when he said “whatever,” he was referring to Kelly’s “nose,” and that only “deviants” would believe otherwise.
The dubious nature of the explanation notwithstanding, Trump’s comments prompted right-wing media personality Erick Erickson to disinvite Trump from Saturday’s Red State gathering for Republican presidential hopefuls in Atlanta.
By Saturday afternoon, Trump had also parted ways with longtime ally, Roger Stone, a self-described GOP “hit man.”
Why should you care about all of this? Because the more we unpack the weekend’s developments, the clearer it becomes that Trump’s often-ridiculous Republican presidential campaign has reached a crossroads.
What may have started as one ugly shot at a network host quickly became the launching pad for a controversy with multiple angles:
* Department of Pots and Kettles: For Erick Erickson to suddenly position himself as an arbiter for propriety and decency in Republican politics is arguably every bit as ridiculous as Trump’s unexpected rise as a GOP power player. Erickson’s record is one of repulsive rhetoric towards all kinds of perceived foes, most notably his jaw-dropping misogynistic attitudes towards women. The real question over the weekend wasn’t Erickson’s discomfort with Trump, but rather, why any credible presidential candidate would want anything to do with an Erickson-hosted gathering.
* The GOP’s Curious Standards: Trump’s racism prompted no Republican backlash. Trump’s anti-veteran rhetoric did nothing to undermine his support. Trump’s history of misogyny hasn’t stood in his way. But ugly criticism of a Fox News host is the one thing some Republicans won’t tolerate? The party has had better days.
* A Powerful Foe: Trump’s list of targets practically has no end, but picking a fight with Fox News is easily his most dangerous proposition to date. The network has a unique role as one of the most powerful and influential institutions in Republican politics. Trump can go after all kinds of politicians and pundits without consequence, but can he survive a prolonged conflict with Fox News? Not if he intends to continue in a GOP primary.
* The Stone Zone: Trump says he fired Roger Stone. Stone said he resigned. One of them isn’t telling the truth. The more salient point, however, is that Stone believes Trump has become overly “provocative.” Kevin Drum joked, “Roger Stone complaining that Trump has become too vitriolic and combative is like the Kardashian family getting on your case for being too much of a publicity hound. It’s like Dick Cheney advising you that you’re banging the war drums too loudly. It’s like Louis XIV telling you to cool it with the mansion building.”
* The Road Ahead: Reporting from Atlanta, msnbc’s Benjy Sarlin quoted Erickson saying over the weekend that Trump’s shot at Megyn Kelly represents “the beginning of the end” for Trump’s candidacy. Plenty of attendees to the Red State gathering seemed very much inclined to agree.
And it’s certainly possible that, this time, Trump really has gone too far, and criticizing a Fox News host is qualitatively different for Republican primary voters than racism, misogyny, and all-around buffoonery. The problem, of course, is that we’ve heard similar assessments before, which have generally been followed by a new round of polling showing Trump leading the GOP field by an even wider margin.
What will happen this time? I’ve given up trying to guess. That said, it’s likely the fallout from this weekend’s events – or the lack thereof – will determine the future of Trump’s candidacy.