“I’ve had a flawless campaign. You’ll be writing books about this campaign.”
So said Donald Trump to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos a little over two weeks ago. The latter statement is undeniable. There may be more people wanting to write books on Trump than people wanting to read books on Trump.
I could have that wrong, however. I may be selling the American public short.
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Take a look at the summaries of the top three books on The New York Times’ nonfiction best-seller list as of this Sunday: 1) “A former Secret Service officer claims to have witnessed scandalous behavior by the Clintons.” 2) “The conservative author and pundit warns of disaster if Hillary Clinton is elected president.” 3) “The political strategist offers a game plan for how to defeat Hillary Clinton.”
So the bar for making the best-seller list seems to have been set rather low — like, 6 inches off the ground low.
That leaves us with Trump’s first assertion: that his campaign has been “flawless.”
As Trump was making this statement, he was in possession of internal polling showing that a troubling number of voters described him in two words: “unqualified” and “racist.”
“Flawless” did not make the list. “Pathological liar” may make the next one.
On Monday, Trump said he wants a new standard for allowing immigrants to enter the United States. Reading carefully from a teleprompter (the better to look “flawless”), Trump said: “We should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people. … The time is overdue to develop a new screening test for the threats we face today. I call it ‘extreme vetting.'”
To Trump’s dismay, however, he has discovered that our system of democracy has already developed a system of “extreme vetting” when it comes to presidential politics. It is a long, torturous, draining process. It is called “campaigning.”
Trump thought he could run for president on his own terms. He would give speeches at big rallies, take part in debates where he could be as outrageous as he wanted to be and then get on his Trump plane, eat a Trump steak and go back to his penthouse in Trump Tower and sleep on Trump sheets (probably made in China).
The press would serve as a team of traveling stenographers, taking down his every word and presenting it to the public without context, analysis or any judgment as to whether he was speaking the truth, fibbing a little, making an honest mistake or lying through his teeth.
It hasn’t turned out that way. Trump has found that presidential campaigning is a bigger and more complicated system than he ever imagined. It is grinding him up and spitting him out. And he has nobody to blame but himself.
Back in 2008, when Hillary Clinton first ran for president, her small, insular, passionately devoted inner circle of aides and friends was known as “Hillaryland.”
This year, there is “Trumpville.” Though a few of his children and paid staff members are allowed to contribute a word or two here and there, Trumpville has only one real resident: Donald Trump.
And Trump thinks he is doing a “flawless” job. Trying to fool the press and public is one thing. But when you start to fool yourself, you are in real trouble.
A few days ago, The New York Times interviewed several people close to Trump who described him as often being “sullen” and “erratic.” He “broods.” He is “exhausted, frustrated and still bewildered.” He is “profoundly uncomfortable” and “disoriented.” He is “confused” and “scared.”
To steady him, Trump’s advisers have brought in two “seasoned figures” for him to sit around and schmooze with. They are supposed to bring serenity now to his campaign. They are bitter failed presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani and bitter failed presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Those schmooze sessions must be a million laughs.
So looking at the Trump campaign, you find that the reviews are bad, the polls are bad and the candidate’s mood is bad. This recently led NBC News to conclude, “The good news for Trump is that it can only get better from here.”
When it comes to campaigning for president, pessimists say things are so terrible that they can’t get any worse.
Optimists say oh, yes, they can.
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