Last month, in an editorial endorsing Hillary Clinton for president, we described her Republican opponent Donald Trump as a “thin-skinned demagogue who is unqualified and unsuited to be president.” In recent days, Trump has repeatedly proved our point.
First there was his dyspeptic and increasingly disjointed performance in last week’s televised debate with Clinton, in which he incessantly interrupted her, blamed her for his ugly campaign to cast doubt on President Obama’s citizenship and suggested that paying no federal income taxes makes him “smart.”
Then, stung by Clinton’s effective needling over his sexist and degrading comments about Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe, Trump unleashed a series of tweets in the early hours of Friday morning.
At 3:30 a.m., he tweeted: “Anytime you see a story about me or my campaign saying ‘sources said,’ DO NOT believe it. There are no sources, they are just made up lies!” Never mind that Trump himself often cites unidentified sources for improbable assertions, using formulations such as “many people are saying” or “some people say.”
At 5:30 a.m., he tweeted: “Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?” The “sex tape” was apparently a clip from a Spanish-language reality TV show that showed Machado and another person moving rhythmically under a blanket. As for Machado’s application for citizenship, a Clinton spokeswoman said the candidate had nothing to do with it.
The same kind of man who, the next evening, treated supporters at a rally in Manheim, Pa., to an imitation of Clinton stumbling as she was helped into her car at a 9/11 memorial last month during a spell of pneumonia. “Here’s a woman, she’s supposed to fight all these different things and she can’t make it 15 feet to her car,” Trump said. “Give me a break.”
In the same speech, Trump insinuated that Clinton might not be “loyal” to Bill Clinton, adding, “and really, folks, really — why should she be, right? Why should she be?”
Some commentators suggested that Trump may have been rattled by reports that the New York Times was about to publish that he declared a loss of $916 million on his 1995 tax returns, which might have been enough to spare him from paying federal income taxes for up to 18 years. (We would know for sure if Trump released his tax returns, but he continues to refuse to do so.)
Indeed, the possibility that Trump went years without paying federal income tax might prove acutely embarrassing for a high-living candidate who often has cast himself as a champion of the common taxpayer. Only three months ago he tweeted: “Taxpayers are paying a fortune for the use of Air Force One on the campaign trail by President Obama and Crooked Hillary. A total disgrace!”
But the truth is that Trump doesn’t need a particular provocation to behave this way. He seems constitutionally incapable of overlooking a perceived slight or moderating his response. These are dangerous qualities in a president. Yet too many voters — and too many Republican leaders — refuse to acknowledge the disheartening truth.