Editor’s Note: David Axelrod is CNN’s senior political commentator and host of the podcast “The Axe Files.” He was senior adviser to President Barack Obama and chief strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
David Axelrod: I don't believe Donald Trump is throwing tantrums to "throw the race"
Trump is simply being true to himself and his supporters, Axelrod says
It’s hard to believe, as some have suggested, that Donald Trump wants to lose his campaign for the presidency. After all, his entire self-image, brand and message are built around one word: “Winner.”
Yet if Trump were plotting to throw this race, he would not have behaved any differently than he has for the past six days.
Starting with his gratuitous and disturbing slap at Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star mother who appeared at the Democratic National Convention, Trump has been careening from one unsettling comment to another.
Among them, he appeared to defend Russia’s annexation of Crimea, suggested the election might be “rigged,” booted a baby from a rally, joked about getting the Purple Heart the easy way and petulantly refused to endorse two leading Republicans – House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain – against minor primary opponents.
All of this came as Hillary Clinton and the Democrats concluded a well-executed convention week in which a succession of speakers lifted up the former secretary of state and serially painted the portrait of Trump as unhinged and dangerous.
“A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” Clinton said in her acceptance speech, capturing in one line mounting fears about Trump’s temperament and preparedness.
Trump’s binge of bombast in the wake of the Democratic convention only seemed to authenticate the argument Clinton and others had been making against him. And the furor over his peevish post-convention outbursts led several prominent Republicans to disavow him, perhaps easing the way for others to follow.
“I’m an American before I’m a Republican,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Iraq War veteran and military reservist, told Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “The Situation Room.” “I’m saying for me personally, how can I support that? Because he’s crossed so many red lines that a commander in chief or a candidate for commander in chief should never cross.”
In just the past week, two other Republican House members, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Richard Hanna of New York, have come out against Trump’s candidacy. So have Republican business executive and fund-raiser Meg Whitman and Marc Racicot, a former Montana governor and Republican National Committee chairman. There will surely be others between now and November.
There are still 96 days to go, an eternity in politics. And Clinton carries her own well-documented political burdens.
But, as I said years ago, presidential races are like MRIs for the soul. Whoever you are, people come to know you.
Republican leaders had hoped that their tempestuous and improvisational standard-bearer would emerge from the convention with a new focus and discipline.
Instead, something has been further exposed in Trump. The erratic and mean-spirited reactivity and cavalier disregard of basic facts that we have seen throughout the year have come into even sharper relief these past few days.
That quality is unlikely to recede as the pressures of the campaign inexorably mount.
So, no, I don’t believe Trump is throwing tantrums to “throw the race.” I don’t think, as some elites have speculated, that he is acting out to avoid the awesome powers he subconsciously believes he is unprepared to hold.
This is who he is.
Having thumbed his nose at the party establishment and “political correctness” to win an improbable nomination, he simply is being true to himself and his supporters, responding to every provocation with full and indiscriminate fury that matches their anger at the political class.
Trump’s challenge is that what thrilled the 13 million voters who made him the Republican nominee may already have disqualified him with the tens of millions more he would need to capture the presidency.