While I was in computer purgatory, Donald Trump, whose eventual nomination I have been confidently predicting, took some major steps toward inflicting on himself wounds from which he may not recover. I confess I simply did not anticipate the depths of his stupidity. Serious policy wonks will focus on his bold refusal to take “off the table” the possibility of using nuclear weapons in Europe, but my attention, like that of most of America, was captured by the moment in the Chris Matthews “town hall” interview when Mr. Trump, his face screwed up in a caricature of serious thinking, offered the opinion that women who have abortions “must be punished.” It was, both for Trump and for Matthews, a tour de force. Trump managed in one magical moment to unite the pro-life and pro-choice forces, which have been locked in a death struggle for half a century. Matthews managed finally to puncture Trump’s façade of imperturbability and force him to reveal himself for the blustering fool he is.
It was transparently clear that Trump had never given a moment’s thought to the question of abortion, beyond embracing what he repeatedly refers to ritually as the Ronald Reagan position – “pro-life with exceptions” [i.e., “rape, incest, and the life of the mother.”] The anti-abortion forces for decades have been piously referring to the pregnant woman, with staggering illogic, as “the victim” in an abortion, despite insisting that the abortion she seeks and pays for is murder. Poor Donald, who had neglected to take note of this talking point, can be seen in the video painfully thinking his way through the question whether, should abortion be illegal, the woman should be punished, and drawing the logical, but absolutely forbidden, conclusion that she should be. At that precise moment, Donald Trump ceased to be the inevitable Republican nominee. Mind, he may still he be unstoppable. The next month or so will tell. But as someone commented, he has become one of the undead – no longer viable, but possibly unstoppable nonetheless.
I have been rather critical of Matthews in this space, so I think it is only fair for me to give credit where it is due. Matthews was brilliant, relentless, undistracted by Trump’s attempt to re-direct the conversation to Matthews’ Catholicism. It is worth watching the entire exchange and not just the eight or nine second sound bite in which Trump utters the fateful line that there “must be punishment” for the woman. What fascinated me was that Matthews got Trump to say those words by bullying him. He simply refused to let Trump off the hook, as every other interviewer has thus far. Trump could have refused to answer – by far the wiser course. But Matthews just plain bullied him into giving a reply. Trump was revealed, in that moment, as all bullies eventually are, as a craven coward, not at all an alpha male, who cannot stand up to someone who is simply stronger than he is.