Ezra Klein explains how the Machado story shows Donald Trump's dangerous vulnerability to being baited on vox.com.
The last six days proved Donald Trump is dangerously unfit for the presidency.
The problem isn’t that Trump is cruel, though he is. The problem isn’t that Trump is boorish, though he is. The problem isn’t that Trump is undisciplined, though he is.
The problem is that Trump is predictable and controllable.
His behavior, though unusual, is quite predictable — a fact the Clinton campaign proved by predicting it. His actions, though beyond the control of his allies, can be controlled by his enemies — a fact the Clinton campaign proved by controlling them.
Donald Trump can be forgiven for being caught off-guard in the moment. His presidency-disqualifying sin came in the hours after the debate. The Clinton campaign released a slickly produced video featuring Machado. The Guardian and Cosmopolitan rushed pre-planned Machado profiles to publication. Hillary Clinton did everything but spraypaint “THIS IS A TRAP” on the side of Trump Tower.
And still Trump fell for it. And fell for it. And fell for it. Six days later, he’s still falling for it.
There is a part of me that believes the entire Alicia Machado trap was a long con to bait Trump into berating Clinton for her husband’s infidelities at the second debate, and making his past marital betrayals fair game for the press.
What is extraordinary in all this is how enthusiastically Trump has taken the Clinton campaign’s bait, and how unconcerned he’s been with the fact that they meticulously planned all this in advance to damage him. It is almost not fair to call what the Clinton campaign created a trap. They publicly, explicitly, and warmly invited him to participate in their campaign strategy, and he accepted their invitation, because the satisfaction he receives from settling old scores and venting his rage is greater than the satisfaction he receives from leading in national opinion polls.
In the context of a presidential campaign, all this is amusing. It will make a wonderful chapter in the next edition of Game Change. But imagine that this wasn’t a presidential campaign. Imagine it was the Trump presidency. And imagine it wasn’t Hillary Clinton trying to bait Trump into attacking Alicia Machado, but ISIS trying to bait Trump into attacking Iraq, or Vladimir Putin trying to bait Trump into breaking with NATO, or Angela Merkel trying to bait Trump into isolating the United States before a key vote at the United Nations, or China trying to bait Trump into giving them an excuse to assert their claim over Taiwan.
We have all known, abstractly, that this is a possibility. That Trump is easily baited has been on display since he began running for president. That America’s enemies would construct detailed psychological profiles of him and launch sophisticated plans to take advantage of his weaknesses is obvious. But the expectation was that he would have staff around him — his National Security Advisor, his chief of staff — who would explain that the latest provocation is a trap, and who would remind Trump of the importance of avoiding it.
But that’s why the Machado affair has been so enlightening. In this case, Hillary Clinton’s campaign explained that they were setting a trap. The media explained that Clinton’s campaign was setting a trap. And all of Trump’s staff and advisors undoubtedly explained that Trump’s enemies were setting a trap.
Trump didn’t listen, or perhaps he didn’t care. He sprung the trap anyway. He is more passionate about proving his dominance and humiliating his perceived foes than about following his strategy. As unpredictable and uncontrollable as he is to his allies, he is exactly that predictable and controllable to his enemies, and to America’s enemies.
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