Is it too much of a stretch to suppose that we have Bill Clinton to thank for the new Donald show? Remember, nothing is too much of a stretch for right-wing conspiracy nuts when it comes to the Clintons.
Actually, it’s far better than that. As everyone watching the GOP debate learned, Trump not only makes big donations to both parties, he expects payback. When pressed by Fox News moderators about what he received for donating money to the Clinton Foundation, he said his $100,000 got Hill and Bill to come to his last wedding.
So, if Trump is cozy with the Clintons, it would be an expected courtesy to privately inform the Clintons of his presidential plans before making a public announcement. Hence, we have what is arguably the most intriguing backroom moment of the 2016 race so far. If Bill replied, “Do what you gotta do,” he surely earns the award as the most brilliant politican in America today.
Let’s consider what Bill may have helped unleash.
1. More Americans saw the unfiltered GOP in technicolor than ever before. The debate had the largest audience ever for non-sports event on cable—24 million people saw the primetime debate and 6 million the second tier forum. That was because of Trump’s surge in the polls. And boy were they informed! There is no doubt where this party stands on abortion (if women have to die, so be it!), god, guns, gays, government regulation, war and more.
2. Republicans are now officially at war with themselves. Hours before Trump’s post-debate tweets resulted in the most amazing spectacle yet (right-wingers attacking Fox News), the big tent of business conservatives tolerating social conservatives collapsed. That happened seconds into the debate, when Trump said he’d consider running as an independent, third-party candidate if he didn’t get the GOP nomination. The audience reaction, mixing cheers and boos, set the ensuing tone as various candidates piled on Trump, either praising him for striking a vein with voters (John Kasich) or saying he didn’t deserve to be there at all (Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham). Either way, a political firestorm erupted, and it only got worse as the weekend unfolded.
3. Trump’s defenders started attacking Fox News. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. Trump’s defenders quickly took their cues from the candidate himself and joined him in pouncing on moderator Megyn Kelly, who dared confront Trump on his long history of very public sexist and misogynist comments: basically, is it presidential to be a male chauvinist pig in 2015? To which Trump replied he was sorry if he offended her irrelevant politically correct sensibilities. But just savor this moment: Fox News is now being attacked by a good slice of its audience for going after a racist, sexist pig. Let’s repeat that: Republicans are now attacking Fox News.
4. The right-wingers started attacking each other. This is even more amazing to behold. As everyone watching the news knows, Trump went further and suggested that maybe Megyn Kelly was unduly hormonal when she eagerly questioned his misogyny before a national audience. That prompted the organizer of the next big GOP event, Erick Erickson and his Red State summit, to disinvite Trump. (Trump later attacked Erickson and others for having dirty minds and misinterpreting the tweets.)
It gets even better, because, of course, other GOP candidates stood behind Erickson’s we-can’t-have-that-slob-be-our-nominee line in the sand. But at the event Saturday, Erickson was reading tweets from Trump supporters on his big stage, which CNN eagerly carried nationwide. And what did it mean besides showing their love of the Donald and how the party has a serious racist, nativist, misogynist wing?
Ponder this: for years, Erickson and his ilk have tried to promote the radical right as a legitimate part of the GOP. But by reading those tweets, Erickson is helping to destroy the very movement of crazies he helped build. For political junkies, this is more delicious than tiramisu at the White House!
5. Hillary is loving this, but Bernie not so much. Could all of this have started with a slight prod from the political world’s Elvis Presley, a nod from Bill Clinton? It’s hard to say, but you can be sure Hillary Clinton is one of the happiest people in America right now. The new Donald show has not only taken her out of the spotlight, which only helps in a still very long campaign, but it also eclipses the Bernie surge. Bernie may be drawing the biggest crowds on the Democratic side, but the Republican Party’s uncivil war is a truly remarkable and eminently coverable news event, and a gift that keeps on giving.
Do We Have Bill to Thank?
Those who know the real answer to that question are not going to say anything. But gee, if the Republican right breaks down into the domestic political equivalent of Syria—a failed would-be state of warring factions—well, it certainly couldn’t happen to more deserving guys. And if it all started with a prod from Bill, atop a hefty dose of Trump’s ego, is there any politican in America who is a more brilliant strategist?
One final point; Hillary isn’t the only one loving this moment. You can be sure the GOP pro-corporate establishment is thrilled-thrilled-thrilled that, for whatever reason, its immature rebels are dissembling. Yes, it’s embarassing on a national stage. But American attention spans are short. And soon we will see the party’s grownups—those embraced by the Koch brothers and billionaire-saturated wing—surface as “uniters.”
That’s coming, and with it, more of the predictable politics-as-usual to and fro. But for now, the right-wingers are cannabalizing themselves, attacking Fox News, and revving up to support Trump’s third-party run.
Do we have Bill Clinton to thank for such a fun and consequential political moment? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But if so, he is the reincarnation of Niccolo Machiavelli, the brilliant political strategist. Savor the moment.