By almost every measure of established political thought, the past few weeks have been the worst ever for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
He’s engaged in an ongoing war of words with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of a U.S. Army captain killed in Iraq. He was criticized for initially failing to endorse fellow Republicans Paul Ryan, the House speaker from Wisconsin, or Arizona Sen. John McCain (those endorsements came late Friday). He’s suggested the coming general election might be rigged. He was blasted for being given a Purple Heart by a supporter, then saying he’d always wanted one before noting “this was much easier.” He even came under fire for asking that a crying baby be removed from one of his rallies.
If there was any solace, it’s that this all happened more than three months before the Nov. 7 general election, a fact noted by several central San Joaquin Valley Republicans.
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Voters’ memories are short.
Fresno Republican Serafin Quintanar
“Voters’ memories are short,” said Fresno businessman and Republican Serafin Quintanar,who doesn’t support Trump. Quintanar left the GOP a few years ago out of frustration but rejoined it earlier this year because he wanted to work on behalf of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Quintanar, who remains undecided on Trump or even a third-party candidate but won’t ever vote for Clinton, said Trump isn’t the first politician to have a bad week. Many have had them. Some have recovered politically. Others haven’t.
For those following Trump the past year, the events were hardly a surprise. It was mostly in character for the billionaire. And that’s what frustrated Fresno businessman Michael Der Manouel Jr., an avid supporter who was a Trump delegate at last month’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Trump erred, Der Manouel said, by reacting. Trump suddenly wasn’t Trump.
If Der Manouel was advising Trump, he’d tell him to take his convention speech and use it as his platform. After the speech, 57 percent of people watching CNN said they agreed with Trump’s comments, Der Manouel said, noting that CNN’s audience is not Trump’s base. He would tell Trump to spend 80 percent of his time on the themes of his convention speech and 10 percent responding to Clinton’s comments. The remaining 10 percent, he would let Trump be Trump.
“I would continue to challenge Hillary Clinton’s honesty and competency,” he said. “Stay on those issues you identified that you wanted to work on in your convention speech.”
Overall, Der Manouel said it would be “a great mix. If people don’t like it, they can go back to a milquetoast pretty boy who says nothing.”
Fresno Republican Guillermo Moreno, an elected associate representative with the state GOP, said he’d try to get Trump to write down everything he wanted to say. Then, he’d take a look at it and try to get Trump to think about the wording or not tweet something that could get him into political hot water.
In the end, though, Moreno said Trump’s strength – and what has gotten him this far – is his willingness to say what’s on his mind and not be politically correct. If he insisted on saying something his way, Moreno would let him do it.
Some local Trump supporters came to his defense.
“The bottom line is Trump has had a bad week, but it’s nothing he can’t come back from,” said Fresno resident Marcelino Valdez, the state Republican Party’s central region vice chairman. “Looking at a comparison to Clinton – she’s had a bad history of worse mistakes. She’s cost people’s lives in Benghazi (the Libyan city where a U.S. embassy was overrun by terrorists and the American ambassador was killed). You name it. There are so many issues that it is ironic to hear Democrats try to make a mountain out of this ant hill here.”
Der Manouel said mainstream Republicans are part of the problem.
In the decades he’s observed politics, Der Manouel said, he’s witnessed a string of candidates who make great speeches and know policy in minute detail. Then they get in office – and fail.
The bottom line is Trump has had a bad week, but it’s nothing he can’t come back from.
Fresno resident Marcelino Valdez, the state Republican Party’s central region vice chairman
Republicans, he said, complained about the “nuanced approach” of 2008 GOP nominee McCain and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and how they never addressed tough issues. It seemed, he said, that they were wishing for a candidate such as Trump.
“So along comes Trump and he’s not a guy to give a great speech or know policy detail, but in his life has gotten things done – whether you like what he’s got done is irrelevant,” Der Manouel said. “He gets things done, but he’ll never know who the prime minister of Serbia is, ever, because it doesn’t matter. The appeal of Trump is that he doesn’t have a consultant whispering in his ear 24/7, and he gets things done, period.”
Quintanar said Trump’s bad week wasn’t unlike the past 52-plus. During that time he vanquished 17 Republican presidential hopefuls, including such big names as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Cruz.
“The thing about Trump is everybody knows how he is, so it is not a surprise or a shock, no matter how some people might be offended,” Quintanar said.
Because of that, Quintanar doesn’t think the week’s negative effects will linger for Trump.
“The thing about Trump is, he goes up there and every at-bat he swings for the fences,” he said. “You know home-run hitters strike out a lot, but that doesn’t mean he won’t hit a home run next week. It’s a risky strategy, but it worked for him in the primaries.”
Still, the political fallout irks Der Manouel, especially that associated with the Khans. He said the Khans’ son made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and he deserves to be honored for that. But when the husband and wife took the stage at the Democratic National Convention to condemn Trump’s immigration policies, they became fair game. Patricia Smith, whose son died in Benghazi, spoke at the Republican National Convention, and she was fair game after her speech, Der Manouel said.
“If a Gold Star family is off limits, then the Benghazi mom is, too,” he said. “But she wasn’t. They ripped her to shreds.”
Valdez agreed: “Why is the (Democratic National Committee) using (Khan) for political purposes? People are not holding the DNC responsible for that. With Pat (Smith), the Benghazi mom, they’re saying that’s political. How is this not a double standard? I’m going to agree with Donald Trump. How is that fair?”
Even then, Der Manouel added that the issue at hand for the Khans – what they spoke about at the Democratic convention and not the lingering feud between them and Trump – is immigration, which Trump had repeatedly said needs to be curbed. He’s proposed to ban all Muslim immigrants from entering the U.S. The crux of Khizr Khan’s short convention speech was that if a ban was in place, his son wouldn’t have been living in the U.S. or able to join the military.
“You wave a Constitution in my face and say it’s an E ticket to immigrate from anywhere,” Der Manouel said. “It’s not.”
But Fresno businessman and lifelong Republican Rudy Placencia looked at it differently. Trump’s bad week, he said, is just further proof that he is unqualified to be president, and feuding with the Khans is the perfect example of that.
Placencia, a military veteran who has been against Trump from the start, initially because of his derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants, offered stories of former Republican presidents George W. Bush and Richard Nixon to illustrate how Trump’s reaction to the Khans is unpresidential.
In the Nixon story, he took a walk on the National Mall accompanied by Secret Service agents. Near the Lincoln Memorial, he was confronted by a person who’d lost a family member in Vietnam. The person could have been arrested, Placencia said, but instead ended in an embrace with Nixon, a man Placencia noted was of dubious moral character.
With Bush, the issue was anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed during the Iraq War. The media, Placencia said, tried to “bait” Bush, but he never reacted, knowing that Sheehan’s son had paid the ultimate price to defend the nation.
But Trump, he said, battled the Khans, which was totally inappropriate, even if they did open themselves to criticism by speaking at the Democratic convention. Placencia said he especially understood the pain of Ghazala Khan, who even though her son was killed more than a decade ago, still cannot maintain her composure when she sees pictures of him.
That he is so easily baited that a response can get under his skin in a tweet is very, very disturbing, and is another example of how unpresidential this man is.
Fresno businessman and Republican Rudy Placencia
“He clearly is so easily baited because he has thin skin,” Placencia said. “That he is so easily baited that a response can get under his skin in a tweet is very, very disturbing, and is another example of how unpresidential this man is.”
The presidential reaction, Placencia said, would have been for Trump to, first, say he was sorry for the Khans’ loss, and then say that he has read the Constitution, but that it is not about immigration. Instead, it is about defeating Islamic fundamentalism, “who directly or indirectly killed your son.
“But he didn’t do that.”
Placencia is also unhappy about Trump’s snub of McCain. He recalled Trump’s earlier comments about McCain being shot down over Vietnam and held as a prisoner of war, and how he liked “people that weren’t captured.”
Given Trump’s continued campaign of divisiveness, Placencia said, he wasn’t surprised at how Trump’s recent weeks have shaped up. It was all bound to catch up with him at some point, he said.
Republicans such as Moreno, the local GOP official, looked at it from a campaign standpoint. His job, he noted, was to help get Trump elected because Trump is the party’s nominee.
“Both of the candidates right now are pretty battered,” he said. “The news cycle is 24 hours, and the news cycle will pass. Voters will not hinge their decision on this.”
Der Manouel said it was ridiculous for Republicans to bad-mouth Trump or to hint that they are looking at ways to replace him. But, he said, it is totally in character.
“One thing Republicans are best at every four years is panicking,” he said. “That’s their No. 1 skill set.”