Trump on 9/11: Unhinged or Shrewd?


Donald Trump has made a living off insulting/plain spoken/inflammatory rhetoric from the moment he announced his candidacy.  And so there is a temptation to conclude that his diatribe about the culpability of George W. Bush regarding 9/11 in Saturday’s debate will probably render the same result as his explosive remarks about Mexicans, Muslims, his rival candidates and many others he has labeled as losers and liars: his poll numbers will actually rise.

But not so fast.

It could be in part because I was in New York on 9/11, but it was particularly emotional, disquieting and even depressing to witness such an ugly relitigation of the worst attack ever on American soil, with Trump combatively proclaiming George W. Bush responsible for a disaster for which only the far left has blamed Bush.

As Politico put it, Trump crossed the 9/11 line, and did so in a state where Bush 43 is still extremely popular.

This is not immigration policy or military strategy or tax plans.  For most Americans, 9/11 is deeply personal.

Trump’s diatribe has been compared to the rantings of Michael Moore and his ilk.  Add to that Trump’s loud proclamations about the Iraq War being a disaster, his assertion that only he among Republicans opposed it, his defense of Planned Parenthood (except on abortions) and his opposition to entitlement reform, and one might well conclude that he has become reckless and so enamored of his own success that he doesn’t even realize the damage he might be doing to his candidacy.  That he has forgotten which party’s nomination he is seeking.

But not so fast.

Maybe Trump is actually catching on to this political game and is already shrewdly positioning himself for the general election.  Maybe he believes he has this nomination thing all but in the bag, so that his anti-Bush rhetoric and the other, uh, unconventional policy positions he emphasized on Saturday night were deliberately aimed at those well-chronicled independents and crossover voters he has already attracted in large numbers, and more of which he will need to win in November.

Maybe he figured that bringing up 9/11 would flip the focus of W’s visit to South Carolina from Jeb’s life-support candidacy to a reminder that 9/11 – and the financial meltdown – happened on his watch.

Or maybe he was just disgusted that an audience that behaved like a Wrestlemania crowd was so obviously stacked with major establishment donors and special interest pleaders…a fact he repeatedly pointed to when booed.

Who really knows?  Raise your hand if you can read into the mind of Donald Trump.  But also understand that he did not get to where he is in life flying by the seat of his pants.  Whether there is a method to his madness will be much debated in the five days remaining before South Carolina votes.

Absolutely no one believed he could make it this deep into the nomination battle as the undisputed frontrunner.  His ceiling, the experts kept saying, had been reached at 15%, then 20%, then 30% and so on.  They said he was summer fling, then a fall fling, and here we are in the dead of winter with the establishment seemingly powerless to stop him.

This much we know: he has followed a plan, if you want to call it such, that only he could have devised, and it has gotten him this far. He has kept his own counsel, and given the results so far, it is reasonable to conclude that on Saturday night, for better or worse, he knew exactly what he was doing.

It is also reasonable to conclude that if he survives or thrives in this nomination fight after crossing the 9/11 line, he truly is bulletproof.

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