Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes the stage at a rally, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. 
Photo by John Locher/AP

Trump puts the wrong punctuation mark on a horrendous week

It’s safe to say last week didn’t go according to plan for Donald Trump’s campaign. It started with a debate the candidate obviously lost following inadequate preparation and it ended with a bizarre series of middle-of-the-night tweets in which the Republican feuded with a former Miss Universe – including his call to Americans to watch a “sex tape” that doesn’t exist.

Then the weekend came, punctuated with a report that Trump lost nearly $1 billion during a booming economy and may have avoided paying taxes for 18 years.

An NBC News analysis described it as possibly “the worst week in presidential campaign history.” The Washington Post said last week was a “nightmare for the GOP.” Vox had a piece – which was published hours before Trump’s tax revelations – that said the previous six days “proved” that Trump is “dangerously unfit for the presidency.”

It’s against this backdrop that Trump took the stage in Manheim, Pennsylvania, on Saturday night. The Washington Post reported:
[H]e kept going off on one angry tangent after another – ignoring his teleprompters and accusing [Hillary Clinton] of not being “loyal” to her husband, imitating her buckling at a memorial service last month, suggesting that she is “crazy” and saying she should be in prison.

He urged his mostly white crowd of supporters to go to polling places in “certain areas” on Election Day to “watch” the voters there. He also repeatedly complained about having a “bum mic” at the first presidential debate and wondered if he should have done another season of “The Apprentice.”
The Republican campaign had told reporters in advance that Trump would use the remarks to try to drive a wedge between Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) and Clinton, but instead, the GOP nominee stepped on his own message, lashing out at “Crazy Bernie” for making a “deal with the devil.”

To be sure, as anyone who’s paid any attention to the presidential race knows, this was hardly the first unhinged speech Trump has delivered. But it’s the context that made this one more notable than others.

Election Day is now 36 days away. Trump had just endured a brutal week, and shortly before taking the stage, he learned about the New York Times’ report on his billion-dollar loss in 1995. It was a gut-check moment for the amateur politician: how does Donald Trump respond when the pressure’s on? With everything on the line, is he a clutch player?

Evidently not. When he wasn’t calling for his opponent’s imprisonment, he was calling international traders “bloodsuckers.” When Trump wasn’t urging his followers to engage in voter-intimidation tactics in “certain areas,” he was blasting NBC News’ Lester Holt and last week’s debate organizers.

For the last month or so, the conventional wisdom said the Republican’s current campaign leadership team – the third in five months – had finally tamed Trump’s worst instincts. He’s been sticking to the teleprompter; he’s avoided overtly racist attacks; and some pundits have offered praise of the more “disciplined” Republican candidate – or at least what passes for discipline with this candidate. Polls showed the overall race narrowing.

But note how quickly Trump reverts to form. Faced with a debate failure, Trump lashed out wildly, like a blindfolded child swinging a bat at a pinata. Confronted with a damaging New York Times report, Trump came unglued altogether.

With five weeks remaining, Trump has apparently decided to be himself, and Saturday night in Pennsylvania, it wasn’t a flattering posture.