For a man who built his celebrity on the catchphrase “You’re fired,” Donald Trump, it turns out, is terrible at firing people. It seems impossible to imagine a campaign for president that wouldn’t fire a campaign manager arrested and charged with simple battery for grabbing a woman. Especially if that woman was a reporter covering the campaign. Especially if the incident was caught on video.
But if there is one thing Trump has managed to do time and again since he launched his campaign by calling undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists,” it is defy the human imagination.
The Jupiter, Florida, police arrested campaign manager Corey Lewandowski Tuesday, and the Trump campaign immediately issued a statement declaring the charges false and even denying he was arrested. (He was.) Lewandowski has put the campaign — and the candidate himself — in the position of lying for him repeatedly as they deny the assault took place. Lewandowski didn’t just grab now-former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields hard enough to leave bruises on her arm; he called her an “attention seeker” in a ham-handed attempt to smear her.
This isn’t an amusing sideshow to a carnival campaign. It’s a profound look into the kind of president Donald Trump would be and the kind of people he would choose to run his government. Trump is still the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination. (There’s no reason to think this scandal will affect his chances more than the other six kajillion that came before.) If he wins in November, we’ll see a lot more Corey Lewandowskis — and this time they’ll have real power.
Lewandowski himself has reportedly bragged he’ll serve as Trump’s White House chief of staff, a position with incredible influence over the levers of the federal government. How will a man with Lewandowski’s anger issues — don’t forget, he grabbed a protester at a rally recently, which the campaign also denied — manage an administration?
More important, what does Trump’s standing behind Lewandowski say about the man who would be sitting behind the Resolute desk? Loyalty is honorable enough, but this isn’t loyalty. It’s closing ranks to protect a thug. It’s lashing out at the media and especially at a woman who had the temerity to ask him questions as he was leaving a room (a woman who, ironically, was working for an outlet so friendly to Trump she had to resign after they chose him over their own employee).
This speaks volumes about the kind of president Trump will make. Trump has built his entire business career on intimidation, shady practices, unpaid bills, misogyny, self-promotion and outright lies. His utter contempt for the law has been on display this entire campaign (he wants to bring back torture and punish the press for criticizing him); he honestly believes the rules do not apply to him.
How would Trump and his staffers react when a scandal burbles to the surface, which would probably happen on a daily basis? They’d make the Nixon administration look like a model of transparency and restraint. Trump would use the full force of his power to attack all his enemies, real and perceived.
Out of all the ugly and completely true things you can say about Trump, perhaps the most remarkable is how incredibly thin his skin is. He is constitutionally incapable of ignoring a slight. He is still defending himself, comically, from a years-old accusation that he has tiny hands. An unaffiliated Super PAC with virtually no budget ran an (admittedly shitty) ad targeting his wife; he went after Heidi Cruz and called her ugly in retaliation.
And when a reporter from Trump’s most fawning publication says his campaign manager grabbed her, Trump doesn’t get the truth and tell his staffer to apologize. Sure, that would have ended the story in a single day. Instead his entire campaign declares war on the woman, lying repeatedly about the incident and attacking her relentlessly. Trump believes there is no such thing as punching down, and maybe he’s right — you can’t punch down when you live in the gutter.
Trump recently gave lengthy interviews to both the Washington Post and the New York Times. Both papers did an admirable job trying to delve deep into Trump’s psyche and values but came up short — the soil was too shallow and too stupid. He told the Post he would solve problems in places like Baltimore and Detroit by being “a great cheerleader for the country,” and the Times Japan and South Korea should build their own nuclear arsenals.
They didn’t need to sit down with Trump for hours to learn what kind of president he would be. They only needed to watch his behavior Tuesday. He directed a tweetstorm of attacks at Field, accusing her of assaulting him with a weapon (she was standing next to him, holding a pen as reporters are known to do), and then held a press conference on his gaudy plane and questioned whether her bruises were real.
Donald Trump isn’t just a bully and a liar; he’s a bully and a liar who doesn’t know how to pick his battles. Will press conferences to denounce reporters be regular features in the Trump White House? How will Trump use the power of the presidency to punish dissenters? How violently will he overreact to insults, whether they’re real or not? Are we ready to find out what happens when a petty, vindictive little man with incredibly poor judgment controls the most powerful military the world has ever seen?Watch some of Donald Trump weirdest moments on the campaign trail.