Has Donald Trump officially become a laughingstock? I guess it depends on which channel you watch.
On Wednesday morning, Trump phoned in to Fox & Friends, where he talked ad nauseam, for over an hour, only occasionally stopping his ramblings to field “questions” about what a great job he’s doing and how lousy his enemies are. The phoner may have been intended as a chaser to wash away the bad taste from his much-mocked sit-down with Jonathan Swan where, to any reasonable observer, it became clear that the president can’t hit anything other than softballs.
However, this conclusion will only be evident to those exposed to both shows. Many Trump supporters will only see the Fox & Friends interview. It’s not just that Trump’s America isn’t capable of discerning a bad performance from a good one (although, that’s probably true), it’s also that they self-filter their media exposure. (In fairness, Trump recently sat down with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace. Presumably, some residents of Trump’s America saw that one, and it did not go well.)
None of his performances may matter. If the polls are to be believed, Trump is losing so badly that a good or bad interview isn’t likely to be determinative. But while Trump’s America will likely remain in awe of him at least until he officially becomes a loser, I am picking up on a psychological shift: The Other America is starting to view him as a joke.
Now, let’s be honest. Trump has always been seen as something of a clown, and has often used his ‘jokes’ as a way to avoid standing firmly behind his words. But in the wake of his 2016 victory (not to mention his strongman authoritarian rhetoric and actions), he was also feared.
With Trump looking likely to go down hard, any grudging respect is evaporating. He is neither loved nor feared. Soon, he may even be pitied.
There is always a danger that Democrats could become over-confident, or even apathetic. So far, though, they don’t appear to be letting their foot off the pedal. The difference comes down to motive. Rather than voting to remove Trump out of fear, they are happy warriors—happy because they sense they are poised to humiliate and vanquish the clown. They seem determined to keep pressing to be sure that they are able to vote him out with glee in just three months.
Sometimes, when people see someone teetering, the mob rushes in to pile on. I think that is what’s happening to Trump. He is being made to look ridiculous, and, as Jack Woltz tells Tom Hagan in The Godfather, a man in his position can't afford to be made to look ridiculous.
In mocking, trolling and taunting Trump, the resistance is using his own style against him. To the extent that Never Trump conservatives are involved in this project (one could argue the Lincoln Project’s greatest contribution has been in the field of psychological warfare), they are channeling not only the insult-comic-in-chief but also left-wing organizer Saul Alinsky, who famously said that “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”
An aside: Years ago, a colleague told me about a campaign he worked on in the Deep South. Upon discovering that their opponent was having an affair with a young staffer, his campaign decided not to go public and ruin the opponent’s marriage. Instead, they drove him insane. Any time this candidate was at an airport, they would have the intercom page her name. If the candidate was at a baseball game, someone would page her name. Everywhere this poor guy went, the same torment followed. It was way worse than any oppo drop.
I think about this story every time the Lincoln Project trolls Trump. I’m not suggesting he has been likewise compromised, but they’ve gotten under his skin. At the same time, Trump, who craves respect and admiration so desperately, has been turned into a punchline.
And if they have their way, he might soon become a joke to his fans. The public is a fickle mistress. As Patton might say, they “love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.”
If Trump’s not careful, losing will come to define him. Trump’s America might soon become Tucker’s America or Cotton’s America or Nikki’s America. His most ardent fans may look back on Trump in unveiled disgust (just like that Vanilla Ice cassette tape you’re ashamed you bought in 1989).
Then, it won’t matter which channel you watch.