The Atlantic: Trump Goes to War

Molly Ball goes through the MAGA looking glass to report on the waning days of the newly “unshackled” Trump campaign:

For the Republicans who capitulated to Trump, the best-case scenario was a genteel defeat. Instead, they got the worst case: the party burned down from within, its own voters cheering the fire. Like so many of those who have gone into business with Trump, they trusted him to hold up his end of the bargain, only to find themselves stuck with a bill he refuses to pay.

“I resigned myself long ago to the fact that this was going to be a disaster,” Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist who has worked for the party’s Senate committee, told me a few days ago. “But there’s no real gratification in having it confirmed in the most obvious and predictable way.”

Donovan has taken to reposting on Twitter a National Review commentary from May wherein he argued that Trump could never win a general election. (“The Archie Bunker routine that succeeded among a subset of the Right is precisely what put him in his current hole,” Donovan wrote back then. “It turns out that what revs the GOP engine is repellent to everyone else.”)

“It’s been a dark six months,” Donovan said, but Trump’s increasing personal toxicity combined with his jihad against the party that nominated him could still get worse. “That’s the scary part,” he said, noting that Trump had tweeted over the weekend that he wanted the politicians pulling back from him to lose their elections.

Trump probably doesn’t know he’s going to lose, Donovan said, but “he’s laying the narrative preemptively to place the blame after this goes down”—to pin it on the traitors in the Republican establishment who fled the sinking ship like so many rats. Based on primary votes, “14 million people are at least susceptible to this argument,” he added. “Is he going to spend the next 20-some days dragging everybody down with him? So there’s a lot of looking into the abyss.”

None of Trump’s presentations are driven by polling or strategy, particularly now that he’s cast off any pretense of politeness. “His instincts are what they are. He always goes back to the same well,” Donovan said. “The message he’s putting out is doubling down on the underlying sentiment of his whole candidacy: us against the elites, redemption for people who feel ignored. People like Paul Ryan are keeping you down.” Pure resentment with no veneer. Trumpism distilled to its essence.

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NBC on Trump’s Backhanded Bill Strategy

NBC’s Benjy Sarlin and Alex Seitz-Wald look at the Trump campaign’s backhanded strategy of tying Hillary Clinton to her husband’s escapades.

His inner circle notably includes several veterans of the 1990s fights with Clinton: Bossie served as a high-profile investigator for House Republicans. Roger Stone, an outside confidant of Trump, has spent years trumpeting obscure conspiracy theories about the Clintons and last year wrote a book called, “The Clintons’ War on Women.” Newt Gingrich, a leading Trump ally, was Speaker of the House during Clinton’s impeachment.

“It’s sort of Ahab and the white whale,” Liam Donovan, a GOP strategist, said. “There are people fighting the old battles like it’s still 1996 when this stuff doesn’t matter to anyone.”

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BV: Cruz Invests in Trump’s Bankruptcy

Over at Bloomberg View, Frank Wilkinson looks at Ted Cruz’s decision to cover his convention short, buy high, and double down on $MAGA after the first debate. My take:

Neither Trump nor Cruz has changed. Only the political calculation has.

“Cruz wants be able to say he did all he could, if only to avoid the inevitable recriminations that he undermined the nominee at a key time,” said GOP strategist Liam Donovan, via e-mail. “And even if the Trump primary base isn’t made up of the ideological fellow travelers he thought they were, Cruz world probably still views them as rightfully his in a post-Trump environment.”

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