Donald Trump’s the Biggest 2016 Loser – But Not the Only One – U.S. News & World Report

It’s over. Donald Trump melted down one last, fatal time.

In the third and final debate, suitably hosted in Las Vegas, Trump showed his desperately losing hand when he said that he might not recognize the results of the election. What a staggering thing to say. For all our flaws, this is a country where we treasure the right to vote. The ballot box is closely monitored, but not fundamentally questioned, and the peaceful transfer of power is paramount. As painful as Bush v. Gore was in 2000, the loser accepted the outcome. We leave vote rigging and political hooliganism to countries like Venezuela and, yes, Russia.

Trump’s campaign of destruction will deliver not only electoral defeat but will prove to be a huge setback to his businesses. The Trump brand has lost its luster. His hotels reportedly are suffering already.

But Trump is hardly the only loser in this disaster of a campaign season. The field is littered with them.

Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, has lost credibility, respect and stature by the day. Though he is still panting on the sidelines, trying to clean up the mess without acknowledging the stench, his words ring hollow and desperate. Of course Trump will recognize the will of the people, Pence assures us, just as Pence tried to explain away Trump’s outrageous comments on women, on Putin, on paying taxes, on suggesting Hillary Clinton’s Secret Service agents should disarm and see what happens. After November 8, Trump will go back to his business – or anywhere anyone will have him. But Pence, an evangelical Christian and principled conservative, will return to politics, where reputation matters, where forgiveness is fickle, and where his devotion to Donald Trump will forever be just a YouTube search away.

Beyond Pence, the Republican Party is in tatters. Its leaders, attacked by their own candidate, never figured out whether to flee or shelter in place. Most knew Trump was a loose nuke all along, but they didn’t appreciate what mutual assured destruction would really look like. The question now is what happens when the mushroom cloud clears? Who will be left to rebuild the party?

Hillary Clinton – though she will likely win big on Election Day – has been a loser in this process, too. Confronted with Trump’s echo chamber of attacks and insults, she hunkered down. She used Trump’s outrages to counterattack and to deflect attention rather than seriously and consistently address her gaping trust deficit. And when she went into policy detail, attention was barely paid as Trump’s angry tweets and accusations continued to set the agenda and hijack media attention. How well do people know Hillary Clinton even now?

And what about the media?

Alternately mesmerized and horrified by Trump, the media’s obsessive coverage has been dominated by name-calling, insults, horserace and sex talk. On cable news, the candidates’ surrogates served as propagandists. Lost in all the noise was the deep, serious reporting voters deserve about the candidates’ positions on issues that matter – jobs, income inequality, racial tensions, crime, drugs, Russia, terrorism, and so much more. David Leonhardt pointed out in The New York Times that Trump and Clinton were never asked a debate question about climate change, the most perilous threat to the planet.

Of course, the biggest losers in this campaign are the American people and the political process. We have been cheated at a critical and complicated time. Trump’s talk about a rigged system and looming voter fraud, along with his assertions that every policy is a disaster, that everyone in Washington is incompetent, and that his opponent belongs in jail undermine confidence in the pillars of our democracy itself.

I started covering presidential politics in the early 80’s, when Ronald Reagan railed at big government and “the puzzle palaces on the Potomac.” He blew dog whistles when he called out “welfare queens.” But he was a decent man and a genuine optimist. Reagan’s “morning in America” reelection campaign came the same year that democrat Walter Mondale selected Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate – the first woman on a major party ticket. The campaign was tough, at times nasty, but both parties projected a vision of opportunity and idealism. The same can be said for every election since. Until now.

What’s made this year’s contest so dark is the near absence of optimism, idealism and hope. While both candidates are unpopular, Donald Trump turned the campaign poisonous. We are left gasping for air, wondering how we got here.

David Letterman, who knows something about media, ratings and celebrity, offered perhaps the simplest explanation. He told The New York Times that people were just “amused enough” to keep Trump afloat “because nobody wanted the circus to pull up and leave town.”

Well, the circus is over. It lost its magic long ago. Even the clowns are crying now.

politics, campaigns, Donald Trump, Republican Party, Mike Pence, 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, media, voters, 2000 presidential election, Ronald Reagan, debates

Frank Sesno is the director of The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs and former CNN Washington bureau chief. He is author of the forthcoming book “Ask More,” which examines the power of questions.


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