A Reckless Cruelty Too Far?

Right-wing media have suddenly noticed that Trump is a jerk and a bully, after Trump dredged up the nearly-two-decades-old conspiracy theory about the death of Lori Klausutis in 2001. Klausutis was an aide to then-U.S. Representative Joe Scarborough, and there was widespread speculation Scarborough was involved in the death. But Scarborough was 800 miles away at the time, and police rules the death an accident. And that was the end of it, until recently.

Trump flew in to a rage about Scarborough over something — Trump seems to be in a perpetual rage these days — and began to tweet about Klausutis.

The president’s charge amplified a series of Twitter messages in recent days that have drawn almost no rebukes from fellow Republicans eager to look the other way but have anguished the family of Lori Klausutis, who died when she suffered a heart condition that caused her to fall and hit her head on a desk. Mr. Trump doubled down on the false accusation even after Timothy Klausutis pleaded unsuccessfully with Twitter to take down the posts about his late wife because they were causing her family such deep pain.

“A lot of people suggest that and hopefully someday people are going to find out,” the president said when asked by reporters about his tweets suggesting that Mr. Scarborough had committed murder perhaps because of an affair with Ms. Klausutis. “It’s certainly a very suspicious situation. Very sad, very sad and very suspicious.”

Republicans may have initially looked the other way, but today there are a surprising number of critical commentaries in right-wing media telling Trump to STFU about Lori Klausutis. See, for example, the Washington Examiner, the New York Post, and even, praise be, Townhall. (Gateway Pundit is silent on the issue, however, and Breitbart blames Democrats. Some things don’t change.) See ‘Ugly Even for Him’: Trump’s Media Allies Recoil at His Smear of MSNBC Host.

The Townhall writer gets to the real point of these comments — “What the president is doing is not only wrong, gross, and plumbing the depths of public discourse; it is also harming his re-election chances.” If it were helping his re-election chances, one suspects Townhall would take a different view.  Some of these people might also remember all the years in which Scarborough was a reliable water-carrier for the Right. Doing the same thing to, say, Hillary Clinton would be okay with them, I’m sure. See also Steve M .

Martin Longman writes,

This is all happening at the same time that fresh compelling evidence is piling up that Trump is headed for defeat and that he’s going to drag the Republican Party down with him. A Firehouse Strategies-0ptimus poll out on Wednesday has Joe Biden leading nationally 54-43 percent, and state polling looks just as bad. Another survey says Trump is trailing in Arizona, while a Tuesday poll showed him leading by a spare three points in Utah. The congressional preference shows the Democrats up by eight points, which is higher than their 2018 midterm advantage and leads Nathan Gonzales of Roll Call to write, “Democrats at this point in the cycle look more likely to gain seats than to lose their majority.” …

… We’ve arrived at the 100,000 victim threshold in the the COVID-19 pandemic, and while blue areas are trending down, the South is trending up. If that trend continues, Trump’s push to quickly reopen the country will look like a lethal mistake even in his political strongholds.

In a normal political cycle, we’d now be in a climate where Republicans are too concerned about November to give any ammunition to the Democrats by questioning their leader. Instead, the exact opposite seems to be happening, with some of Trump’s most dependable defenders suddenly challenging him. His unsubstantiated murder accusations against a MSNBC morning host are not the explanation or last straw, but this is happening at a time that definitely looks like an inflection point in the president’s fortunes.

See also Peter Wehner at The Atlantic, who quotes a letter written by Timothy Klausutis, the widower of Lori Klausutis, to Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter. Klausutis asked Dorsey to delete Trump’s tweets about his wife. Dorsey declined.

“I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him—the memory of my dead wife—and perverted it for perceived political gain.”

There may be a more damning thing that’s been said about an American president, but none immediately comes to mind.

‘There’s plenty of evidence, including the 2018 midterm elections, that Trump’s dehumanizing tactics erode his support, especially among white suburban women,” Wehner writes. This is not some strategic genuis tacitc; it’s Trump unable to control himself.

Speaking of Twitter, you probably heard that Trump threatened to punish Twitter because they fact-checked his tweets about vote by mail. Greg Sargent:

Twitter’s action prompted Trump to accuse the company of “interfering” in the upcoming presidential election.

“They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post,” the president tweeted on Tuesday night.

“Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!”

The First Amendment protecting free speech prohibits government from censoring the speech of private citizens. Needless to say, it does not give POTUS the authority to shut down media companies that say things that piss him off. The plain meaning of the First Amendment might not restrain Bill Barr from taking action against Twitter, however. Trump tweeted this (irony noted) earlier today:

These threats are themselves an abuse of power, as Greg Sargent says; you know, the thing even Republican senators admitted he was guilty of even as they refused to remove him from office. And his irrational crusade against vote by mail — there is no data showing it favors Democrats — is bearing some fruit. “Some GOP legislators in key swing states actually are taking cues from Trump and opposing these measures, even as Trump/GOP opposition is blocking any federal action that would help states implement them,” Sargent writes.

Trump is not going to get any less destructive between now and the November election. I can predict that because being an asshole and a bully is his entire shtick. It’s all he knows how to do. He’s no politician. He’s not really a businessman in the normal sense of the word, even though he has owned businesses. The Trump Company is a family business Trump has run like a mob boss; he has no personal experience with normal corporate structures or has even held a real job in his life. His position in life came from two things: inheriting a boatload of money from his daddy and being a cheating, abusive asshole. All he knows how to do is fight.

Unfortunately, we won’t have a cathartic Joseph Welch moment in which his supporters suddenly see him for what he is. They love him because he’s a cheating, abusive asshole. But (see the transcript) even as Joe McCarthy didn’t have the sense to back off and shut up after Welch’s “Have you no sense of decency?” line, neither will Trump be able to stop being an abusive asshole even as his own behavior turns off every voter in America who isn’t in his cult. He is what he is.