Now, at long last, the big guns are being brought to bear. Some major Republicans like Mitt Romney are speaking up to lay waste to Donald Trump.
For months Trump’s rivals and other Republicans have either retreated in silence or tentatively and ineptly criticized him for exactly those traits that voters like about him: For being a slapdash, politically incorrect, money-hungry bully.
Finally, Trump’s vulnerability is being revealed: An inability to think for an extended time about anybody but himself.
He seduces people with his confidence and his promises. People invest time, love and money in him. But in the end he cares only about himself. He betrays those who trust him and leaves them high and dry.
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It’s unpleasant to have to play politics on this personal level. But this is a message that can sway potential Trump supporters, many of whom have only the barest information on what Trump’s life and career have actually been like.
This is a message that can work in a sour and cynical time among voters who already feel betrayed. This is a message that can work because it’s a personality type everyone understands. This is a time when it is not in fact too late, when it may still be possible to prevent his nomination.
The campaign against Trump has to be specific and relentless: a series of clear examples, rolled out day upon day with the same message. Trump betrays.
It can start with Trump University, where Trump betrayed schoolteachers and others who dreamed of building a better life for themselves. Trump billed his university as a place people could go to learn everything necessary about real estate investing. According to a 2013 lawsuit filed by New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, more than 5,000 people paid a total of $40 million, a quarter of which went to Trump himself.
Internal Trump University documents suggest the university wasn’t really oriented around teaching, but rather around luring customers into buying more and more courses.
According to the New York lawsuit, instructors filled out course evaluations themselves or had students fill out the non-anonymous forms in front of them, pressuring them into giving positive reviews. During breaks students were told to call their credit card companies to increase their credit limits. They were given a script encouraging them to exaggerate their incomes.
The Better Business Bureau gave the school a D- rating in 2010.
“They lure you in with false promises,” one student, Patricia Murphy, told The New York Times in 2011. Murphy said she had spent about $12,000 on Trump University classes, much of it racked up on her credit cards. “I was scammed,” she said.
The barrage can continue with Trump Mortgage. On the campaign trail, Trump tells people he saw the mortgage crisis coming.
“I told a lot of people,” he has said, “and I was right. You know, I’m pretty good at that stuff.”
Trump’s biggest lies are the ones he tells himself. The reality is that Trump opened his mortgage company in 2006. Others smelled a bubble, but not Trump.
“I think it’s a great time to start a mortgage company,” he told CNBC. “The real estate market is going to be very strong for a long time to come.”
Part of the operation was a boiler room where people cold-called clients, sometimes pushing subprime loans and offering easy approval.
Jennifer McGovern had trusted Trump and went to work for him. But she got stiffed in the end. In 2008 a New York state Supreme Court judge ordered Trump Mortgage to pay her the $298,274 she was owed. The bill wasn’t paid.
“The company was set up in a way that we could never recover what we were owed,” she told The Washington Post.
The stories can go on and on. The betrayal of investors when his casino businesses went bankrupt. The betrayal of his first wife with his flagrant public affair with Marla Maples. The betrayal of American workers when he decided to hire illegal immigrants. The people left in the wake of other debacles: Trump Air, Trump Vodka, Trump Financial, etc.
These weren’t just risks that went bad. They were shams, built like his campaign around empty promises and on Trump’s fragile and overweening pride.
David Brooks is a New York Times columnist.