The Slatest

GOP Candidates’ Pathetic Attempts to Insult Donald Trump Highlight His Appeal

Scott Walker in Iowa on Aug. 17.

Justin Sullivan/Getty

Donald Trump, the most prominent symbol of America’s decline, managed to get himself in the news again Wednesday night by insulting someone. This time it was by complaining about fellow 2016 Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina’s face in Rolling Stone. Trump has previously made headlines by suggesting in cutting fashion that Megyn Kelly has menstrual problems, that Jeb Bush is boring, that Rosie O’Donnell is ugly, that Mexican immigrants are often rapists, that John McCain and Lindsey Graham are losers, and that Rick Perry is dumb.

Trump rival Scott Walker took advantage of the rude Fiorina comments immediately with a devastating blow, pointing out that Trump himself looks like a rat, has run businesses into bankruptcy four times, possibly could have made more money in his life by simply putting his vast inheritance in the stock market than he has by play-acting the role of “real estate tycoon,” has an Internet commenter’s understanding of how border security works, and couldn’t find a coherent political position beyond “Look at me, I’m rich and annoying” even if you taped it to the front door of a tacky, failing casino.

Just kidding. Scott Walker apparently spent the morning rummaging around in the recycled rhetoric bin before issuing this utter nonentity of a statement, which did not register on the radar of anyone in the world.

It’s good that he put his initials on that one so we don’t forget who runs the hot zinger department at Walker HQ.

Another candidate, Bobby Jindal … this is what Bobby Jindal wrote.

A reference to a Trump catchphrase that was created 12 years ago.

Jeb Bush’s big attack on Trump last week was a quiz that suggested he doesn’t shake hands enough.

Screen shot/Jeb 2016

Have any of these guys ever heard an actual insult?

This is how you insult Donald Trump.

Or this:

Or just this:

Screen shot/Twitter

It’s been noted often enough that a significant part of Trump’s appeal is his willingness to say things that register as real, dramatic human communication, even though those things are obnoxious. (A less malicious version of this phenomenon explains some of the appeal of Joe Biden, who some Democrats want to run for president despite his having at least one big glaring weakness in the current climate.) But Walker, Jindal, and the rest persist nonetheless with the kind of limp quasi-humanoid insults and “humor” that only set Trump up to embarrass them further.

In other words, while their brains might realize that Trump has changed the game up, their political reflexes appear to be stuck in the old world, where tolerably articulate candidates like John Kasich and Carly Fiorina would have been considered the triumphant champs of the first Republican primary debate. In our new world, the presence of a professional reality-television entertainer like Trump was what drew super-record ratings to that debate, which has only fueled his campaign’s success. Walker et al. don’t seem to understand that their past methods of edging out other dull candidates through “disciplined messaging” and campaign “narratives” are not working against someone with an actual personality.

For all the money that’s spent on crafting it, American political rhetoric is often quite banal—and demonstrably uncompelling when you consider how many people tune it out. Consider the 2012 Denver debate in which Mitt Romney was said to have crushed Obama. Romney’s performance was hugely hyped, but the debate was ultimately watched by less than a third of eligible voters—tens of millions fewer people than watch the Super Bowl—and Romney still ended up losing the election by 5 million votes. Even in high-profile elections, almost half of eligible voters don’t vote at all, and given the public’s general opinion of government it’s safe to say that many of those who do vote do so warily. Today, Trump’s opponents are busy reminding us why that’s so.