It’s hard under any conditions to steal the spotlight from a scenery-chewing ham like Donald Trump. It would seem almost impossible to do so while standing silently in the background, serving as a loyal flunky while the Great Man gesticulates and articulates his awesome winning greatness to the masses.
Yet those who witnessed Trump’s primary-night press conference saw Chris Christie pull off the miraculous. A few days earlier, the New Jersey governor had endorsed Trump as president, and he had drawn widespread condemnation for doing so. At the press conference Tuesday night, Christie dutifully used the deferential “Mr. Trump” to introduce the man he had recently declared “unfit,” then stepped back into the shadows to let Trump bask in the glory.
But over the next 10 minutes, as he looked on in apparent pain and disbelief, staring off into his future as if horrified that this is what he had done to himself and his reputation, Christie stole the show.
America, that could be you. That could be you come Nov. 9, staring in utter disbelief at what you had just done to yourself. That could be you next January, watching as a grinning Donald Trump takes the oath of office on the Capitol steps, adding his name to those of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.
Don’t be that country, America. You are so much better than this.
I remain confident that we are not that country and will not be that country. In fact, the biggest sign of our national decline is the popularity of the man strutting around promising to make us great again. That man is a passing fever. He will prove to be to politics what the mullet was to haircuts, what “Baywatch” was to television, what “Fifty Shades of Grey” was to literature. Someday — someday soon, I hope — a lot of people are going to look back on this time frame in shame and hope that nobody has any pictures.
For Gov. Christie, unfortunately, there will always be pictures.
Here’s what’s going to happen: Trump is not a man who improves over repeated exposure or close examination. His schtick, once new and startling in the political world, is already familiar, and from familiar it will morph into boring and then into embarrassing and finally produce revulsion. That is not a prediction, by the way. It is a guarantee, and the only uncertainty is the time frame in which it occurs. By the GOP convention in July, roughly one year from Trump’s announcement, I expect it to be in full bloom.
But the Republican Party needs it to happen more quickly, before the Florida and Ohio primaries on March 15. Its big donors and highly paid consultants are hoping that millions of dollars in negative TV advertising — the only weapon they know how to wield — can accelerate the process of disenchantment, but I’m not sure that’s possible, for a variety of reasons.
First, their message to the base is that “He’s not one of us; he’s not a REAL conservative.” That was the thrust of Mitt Romney’s attack today in Utah, for example. The problem is, that’s a tough sell when the establishment is itself not perceived as credible or as “one of us.” That’s exactly the schism that Trump has exploited so adroitly.
And let’s be honest: The anti-Trump message is basically a plea to the base to set aside its resentments and anger and think calmly through the consequences to the party and country. And over the years, the GOP hasn’t exactly encouraged the critical thinking skills needed to make that strategy work. I’m not sure it’s possible to undo decades of conditioning in less than two weeks, but we’ll find out.