It is almost too late, but not quite, for Donald Trump to be derailed by a Joseph Welch-Joe McCarthy moment. I called for a qualified and competent GOP candidate to do this seven months ago, but none had the wit or courage to deliver. Since then, Trump has provided one opening after another that could have been exploited to tear away the veil of ignorance from even the eyes of the most deluded Trump supporter. One such opening was September 16, when Trump probably doomed some innocent children by promoting anti-vaxxer myths in a nationally televised debate. A medical doctor, inexplicably running for President, was standing right next to him. Did Ben Carson say, “You know, Donald, your ignorance is stunning. Vaccinations don’t cause autism, and they save lives, but as with every other topic we have talked about, you are shooting from the hip, faking expertise you don’t have, and dangerously misleading millions of trusting Americans by pretending to have expertise you don’t have. You should be ashamed of yourself. Why aren’t you?”? No, Carson, typically, mumbled something accommodating and let Trump get away with more misinformation.
Dr. Carson’s gone now, thankfully, as are many other candidates who might have burnished their own chances and clotheslined Trump with a well-planned “Have you no sense of decency?” sequel. Only one candidate remains who has any chance of pulling off the instant character assassination that Joseph Welch executed so deftly on June 9, 1954. In my post before that September 16 debate, I predicted that one of the non-Trumps would use a variation of Welch’s line, and observed that if I was wrong, none of them “are smart enough to be President.”
As Jeff Goldblum muses in “Jurassic Park,” Boy do I hate being right all the time.” Or being right about why I was wrong.
I don’t have much hope for John Kasich, the one remaining alternative to Trump with a chance to play Welch effectively. Although he should be the perfect candidate for Republicans—a bona fide conservative, a successful governor in a critical state the Republicans must win, easily the most experienced and qualified of the contenders—Kasich has so far shown himself to be a weak presence and a conflict averse campaigner. He is also one who says “Guess what?” every other time he opens his mouth, threatening to join other failed GOP candidates who never bothered to eliminate bad speaking habits that set listeners’ teeth on edge: John McCain’s condescending, “My friends,” and worst of all, Bob Dole’s habit of referring to himself in the third person, like “Jimmy” on “Seinfeld.” The reason this is a significant problem is that it shows Kasich is lazy, lacks self-awareness and that he’s getting bad advice. He also jerks his head, hands and body around when he’s speaking; these are amateurish flaws, because they can be fixed in about a day.
Still, polls show Kasich beating Hillary Clinton soundly, and he is still in the race. He could still save his own prospects for the nomination and the nation as well by Welching The Donald, but time is running out.
If I thought he was sufficiently canny, I might believe that he’s been carefully preparing to hit Trump with a Welch Bomb all along. Trump wouldn’t see it coming; he’s ignoring Kasich at this point. The Ohio governor has made such a fetish about being above the fray that he’s been almost Martin O’Malley-invisible in recent debates, but he still keeps getting plaudits as “the only adult in the room.” What his admirers and Kasich himself have to understand is that when there is only one adult in the room and the children are flagrantly misbehaving, that adult has an obligation to assert his superior experience, values and authority, and impose some discipline. If the adult does not meet this responsibility, he’s abdicating his role as an adult for the role of an impotent, enabling bystander.
Kasich had the perfect set up for a crushing attack on Trump when the boor referenced his penis on national television. Kasich should have had a flexible speech memorized, rehearsed and ready, and it should have gone something like this…
“I have to step in here. Mr. Trump, you are running for the Presidency of the United States of America, and yet here you are, on national TV, once again lowering the level of civility and dignity to gutter levels. Boasting about your penis? Here? And this isn’t even the first example of your utter disrespect for the party, the process, and most of all, the public. You degrade all of us on this stage and the nation itself by conducting yourself in such an ugly and indecent manner. Have you no decency? At this point, I think we have to conclude the answer is no, and you can’t make American great again by acting like a jerk. Frankly, I’m embarrassed to be on the same stage with you. You’re a disgrace. What’s the matter with you?”
I’d love to see how Donald would react to that. Done right—and I doubt very much that Kasich has the skills to do it right—it could immediately elevate Kasich’s candidacy and create a crisis for Trump.
Kasich will have one more opportunity to be the new Joseph Welch, I think. Based on what I’ve seen from him so far, I doubt that he has what it takes to seize it….or to get elected President.