Una Mullally: What can stop Donald Trump?

Since Trump hinted at Hillary Clinton’s assassination he has crossed yet another line, and a big one, Even For Trump (EFT)

On Monday, I wrote a piece about what on earth Donald Trump would do next. With expectations of his behaviour so low considering how outrageous and offensive he has already been, it's almost impossible to come up with any scenario that would see him implode. The grotesque fantasy of his candidacy and everything hideous it entails has already been made real. What can hurt someone who seems to galvanise his base the more vile he is?

Since Trump hinted at Hillary Clinton’s assassination at a rally (“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the second amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what, that will be a horrible day”) he has crossed yet another line, and a big one, Even For Trump (EFT).

From where Trump is standing, decency is a speck on the horizon. Over the course of the campaign, his rhetoric has moved from bullish to dangerous, from stupid to vindictive. A certain amount of this is reminiscent of the Tea Party crazies at their height. Previously, a graphic on Sarah Palin’s website showed crosshairs aimed at states of House Democrats who voted for health care reform, and then listed the politicians in question. One of those politicians was Gabrielle Giffords, who was subsequently shot in the head in an assassination attempt. It is common sense that creating an atmosphere of intimidation and violence causes intimidation and violence. Cause and effect. The recent murder of Jo Cox on the streets of West Yorkshire during the vitriolic Brexit campaign shows what happens when politicians take the pin out of a grenade and then try to deflect responsibility for the explosion.

Right now, Trump’s ravings are terrifying. But his poll numbers are also falling off a cliff. FiveThirtyEight’s Election Forecast, which after the Republican National Convention saw Trump edge ahead of Hillary Clinton, has swung the other way. At the time of writing, Clinton’s “chance of winning” on the forecast runs into 70-80+ per cent across three indicators: polls-only forecast, polls-plus forecast (taking into account the economy and historical data as well as polls), and now-cast (who would win an election today).


But Trump is still here, confounding the world. One of the “uncharted waters” aspects of Trump is that he seems to not just weather storms, but consume them. He is a political Pacman, chomping up poison that would KO another political career. Normally, politicians in modern democracies try to avoid scandal, inflammatory remarks, mobs, and those who think forming a militia is a viable pastime, but Trump has gone so far into the fire, that he needs to keep dousing the flames with petrol to keep the temperature up.

When we see Trump now, flailing around like a wacky inflatable outside a secondhand car dealership, his behaviour is symptomatic of a public meltdown, but one with no visible short-term conclusion. He is living in his own Trump show, ridiculing and lambasting the media for obsessively covering him (how could they not?), yet he in turn obsesses over that coverage, a Narcissus-Ouroboros hybrid, or in less Greek terms, a dog eating its own vomit, delighted with itself.

While Trump’s behaviour mimics a public meltdown, he is not a Charlie Sheen ranting on Twitter. The stakes are much higher. Britney Spears hit a car with an umbrella, but she didn’t have nuclear codes to hand at the time.

Considering that many things he has done so far would torpedo any other political career, he is obviously a very different beast, rewriting the rulebook on shock and scandal. So what can stop Trump?

Scenario 1: The GOP abandons him

The Republican Party has long misplaced the needle on its moral compass. If the party was to abandon him now and revoke its endorsements it would create an almighty mess, although perhaps some Republican individuals could regain some moral authority. But would that work? Considering a lot of of people in Trump’s base are ecstatically anti-establishment, might such an abandonment actually work in his favour for his core supporters, re-enforcing an “us versus them” attitude?

Scenario 2: A sex scandal breaks

Sometimes the personal has a greater impact than the political in ruining someone's career. With Weiner still in cinemas reminding us of this, could a sex scandal take down Trump? But Trump has in fact weathered sex scandals already. Trump's ex-wife Ivana used the word "rape" to describe an occasion in 1989 where she "felt violated", but said, "I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense". According to a 1990 New York Times report, the Trumps' divorce was granted after "cruel and inhuman" treatment by Trump was cited as grounds. Considering Trump's misogynistic attitude towards women, would a sex scandal hurt him? People at his rallies already chant "kill the bitch" when Clinton's name is mentioned, so respect for women is clearly not a priority for them.

Scenario 3: Reversal of policies

Trump has gained support through polarisation, taking extreme points on issues such as race, immigration and gun control. If Trump were to suddenly reverse these policies, he would surely loose support. But unless Trump is some kind of outrageous Democrat plot, that’s not going to happen.

Scenario 4: A media blackout

Stop feeding the beast. What if the media pulled the plug on Trump and starved him of the oxygen of attention? It would be a drastic thing to do, and would probably backfire on the media, and add to Trump’s narrative that the media is a tentpole of a liberal conspiracy against him.

Scenario 5: Trump insults God/Jesus/Christianity

Trump has already taken potshots at the US constitution and the US military, two things that Americans hold dear. What’s left? Perhaps the only thing that could take Trump down is if he has his own “bigger than Jesus” moment. If Trump insulted God, Jesus or Christianity, maybe that would be a wake-up call for the Americans who still support him. Maybe that’s the only thing that could really cause a conclusive implosion. Who knows, it could happen. In fact, as ridiculous as it sounds (EFT), even this is not exactly an unlikely stop on his trajectory of outrageousness.