It was a no good, very bad weekend for the president of the United States. Two months from his election, the entire Labor Day weekend news cycle consisted of Trump fighting with The Atlantic about whether he’d called injured and killed troops “losers” and “suckers” based on the reporting in the magazine. A weekend of “did he call the troops losers” commenced. That made it not a great weekend for Trump, even by Trump standards of not-great weekends.
On Monday, Trump decided to try and change the narrative with a press conference about job numbers, which I guess are theoretically better than expected, but honestly with 31 million out of work and the enhanced unemployment already having expired in mid-August, I’m not sure how anyone can celebrate. That said, Trump pressers are usually an easy layup with questions from One America News Network and the New York Post, but the problem with Trump is that he has one mode, attack, and so there’s no musing about infrastructure or UBI or any legislation. Legislation isn't really Trump’s thing.
During this press conference that was supposed to be about jobs, Trump said, “Biden's a stupid person. You know that.” It’s a statement that has nothing to do with jobs but a lot to do with attacking Joe Biden. And from there it was just a quick jump back to attacking the military, because Trump’s only political tactic is a hammer, thus everything looks like nails to him.
And so, the jobs presser quickly turned into the president attacking the military again while trying to prove he never attacked the military in the first place. Trump said, “leaders at the Pentagon probably weren’t in love with me” because “they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”
Mark Meadows claimed that Trump wasn’t attacking former top lobbyist for the defense firm Raytheon, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, but who would he be attacking?
What better way to refute the idea that you’d called troops “suckers” and “losers” than by trashing the military leadership as people who “do nothing but fight wars” and “cold-hearted globalists.” No better way to defend yourself against the idea that you maligned the military than by actually maligning the military. It’s just math.
Trumpism was born from the idea that everyone in the government is terrible and that you should burn it all down by voting for the reality television host who paints himself orange. So attack attack attack worked very very very well in 2016. But there are two problems here.
The first is that, while Trump definitely did a lot of attacking in 2016, he also had something vaguely resembling a platform. It was a stupid racist platform, which included: building the wall and having Mexico pay for it (lol); making coal great again; and selling himself as being for the (white) working man (which included lots and lots of old-fashioned racism toward Mexicans, Muslims, and African countries). Remember that super-weird fact from 2016—that Trump, a racist and wannabe fascist, was seen as the most moderate GOP presidential candidate in a while. So he actually got some votes, presumably, not from his attacks, but from people who believed his economic plans were worth a shot.
The second problem is that Trump is now the establishment. He’s been president for three years and 231 days, and things, well, aren’t going so great, and despite all that “Promises Kept” stuff at the convention, he hasn’t built the wall or passed an infrastructure bill or a lot of other things. Trumpworld has seen this argument coming so they have decided to attack Biden for his long Senate career and his two terms as vice president, but the problem is that people don’t think of the Senate as being the same as the presidency because they’re not total morons.
And Trump isn’t the only one who attacks. The Trump digital team also attacks vehemently, viciously, and cruelly. In July, Steve Guest of the RNC posted a picture of Biden with his dead son, Beau, when he was a little boy, as a way of trying to shame Biden for Beau wearing a Redskins hat. And then on Sunday, Francis Brennan of Trump's rapid response team posted a photo of Biden visiting his son’s grave as a way of illustrating his “meandering.”
Both of these attacks misfired, and they really misfired. You see, Joe Biden is a man with not one but two dead children, a man who has lived through the unimaginable, so when the polymaths at Trump digital attack him they remind us of the suffering the man has gone through. That’s the thing about Joe Biden. His suffering almost vaccinates him from the cruelty that is the Trump machine.
Trumpworld has one tactic, attack. This tactic worked in 2016 because Trump was an outsider completely untethered by the truth, but now Trump is an insider. He can’t fight the power because he is the power. He can’t rail against the establishment because he is the establishment. How do you destroy the state when you are the state? How do you fight against your own government that you yourself control?
Between now and Election Day you’re going to see more of this—more attacks because Trump has nothing else, no wall, no infrastructure, no coal, no American greatness. Maybe attack attack attack works with the Trump base of angry white guys and maybe this message will work with Junior and the rest of the Trump family. But you’re going to need something if you want to grow your base. After all, the president’s large adult children are not enough to get him re-elected, even if they vote more than once.