Donald Trump is given to superlatives, so let’s do him the honor of pronouncing him the most fabulous whiner in all of American politics.
By Trump’s own account, he’s the baddest, smartest thing going, except if you ask him a challenging question, in which case he kicks and screams and demands to know how anyone could treat him so unfairly.
Trump followed up his shaky-at-best performance at the first Republican candidate debate, hosted by Fox News, with days complaining that he hadn’t been afforded the respect he deserves.
According to Trump, he’ll bring Vladimir Putin to heel. He’ll make Mexico pay for a border fence. He’ll take the Middle East’s oil. Assuming, that is, no one says a discouraging word to him. Then he’ll lose it.
The mogul did indeed get a series of tough questions from the Fox debate moderators (disclosure: I’m a Fox News contributor). But Trump, as Trump always reminds us, is leading in all the polls. It is not unusual — indeed, it is to be expected — that a front-runner gets more scrutiny than the also-rans.
What were the affronts that Trump had to suffer? He was asked right at the beginning whether or not he would rule out running as an independent, a natural question of someone seeking the Republican nomination for president. Trump predictably got booed when he wouldn’t pledge to support the eventual nominee, although he allowed, in a characteristic Trump tautology, that he would support the nominee — if he’s the nominee.
Then Fox anchor Megyn Kelly asked him about how he would respond to inevitable attacks from Hillary Clinton in a general election over his crass insults of women through the years. This set Trump off, but does anyone think if, say, Jeb Bush had ever called woman a pig or a dog, he wouldn’t get asked about it, too?
Trump handled the ensuing flap with his typical aplomb and class, which is to say he flailed about wildly and hurled witless insults. He denied that he said the things Kelly alleged he had, even though he did. He called Kelly an overrated lightweight. Finally, he bizarrely said that “there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
When this was interpreted as a reference to her menstrual cycle, Trump objected that there was no way he possibly could say something so crude — all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. He also insisted that when he said “wherever,” he had been about to say Kelly’s nose or ears, but stopped himself to get on with more important points — which happened to be more insults of Kelly.
For someone who prides himself on being the bold truth-teller, Trump has a penchant for trying to litigate his way out of his controversial statements. When he said a few weeks ago that John McCain wasn’t a war hero, he backtracked and tried to prove that he hadn’t said what he obviously had.
If “never complain, never explain” is a good rule of life, Trump is 0 for 2.
His typical response to any controversy is to boast of his own exceptional greatness — the Fox debate would have been nothing without him, the other candidates told him afterward that he had won, etc. — and to call anyone who has crossed him a loser. If Trump is aware of the fact that there is such a thing as a witty put-down, he is certainly not capable of summoning one.
If he didn’t want to be wrong-footed on the biggest stage of the campaign so far, he could have thought about what questions he might have been asked and about possible answers. This is what candidates have done before debates since time immemorial. Trump was satisfied with Plan B: to wing it and, when it didn’t go to his liking, whine like a spoiled child who didn’t get a pony for his birthday.
Rich Lowry is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.