Is the Donald Trump Big Bully Act Wearing Thin?

Earlier this week, Trump performed less well than expected in Iowa.

At first, he was gracious and magnanimous, even accepting the blame for his setback. But that was then. Now, Trump is demanding a do-over of the entire Iowa caucus. It didn’t go his way, so of course there must have been corruption, and the only way to overcome that corruption is to do it all over, so he can have a fair chance of winning.

Huh?

Such behavior -- in isolation -- is probably survivable. But it’s becoming a pattern, and that pattern is dangerously close to wearing thin. Very soon, what voters once saw Trump as a refreshing voice of candor and independence might start viewing him as an entitled rich kid who’s used to getting his own way -- petulant, perhaps even childish.

Instead of making outlandish and news-generating statements about political issues -- from Mexican immigrants to Syrian refugees -- The Donald has, of late, focused almost exclusively on going postal on his critics. When it comes to criticism or setbacks, it appears that the Great Negotiator has a remarkably thin skin. Three quick, recent, examples:

First, the National Review pulled together 22 conservatives, each of who penned an opinion article on why Trump was not the right choice for conservatives. Most candidates, confronted with something like this, would either laugh it off, suggesting that it was part of a “vast middle-of-the-road conspiracy,” or just ignore it. Trump, however, felt the need to go all medieval on the National Review itself -- getting personal in his attacks on that venerable, and admittedly struggling, conservative publication.

Next, Trump generated an issue where there was one, continually attacking Megyn Kelly for the “sin” of asking him a hardball question at the start of the first pre-Iowa debate last summer. This original Trump-fueled kerfuffle went all the way to Roger Ailes before it was “resolved,” and the conflict faded. 

But then, when Megyn Kelly was slated to be a co-moderator in the last debate before Iowa’s caucus, Trump resurrected the controversy and -- once again -- making it personal. He attacked not just Megyn Kelly’s questions, but her professionalism and even herself as an individual. Then, like a spoiled little rich kid, he threatened to “take his football and go home” unless Fox removed Kelly from the panel. Finally, upping the ante, he made it clear that -- CEO to CEO -- he would only accept an apology from Rupert Murdoch. Roger Ailes, though founder and CEO of Fox News, was not enough to assuage Trump’s monumental ego. Not this time.

Any other candidate -- if truly upset -- would have raised the issue, let it play out, then moved on. But Trump was feeling powerful, and thought he could make Fox News bend to his will, to agree to his demands. He even thought he had a “trump card” -- without The Donald, he reasoned, the debate would have no audience, and Fox News would lose millions in ad revenue. As a businessman, he knew how to hurt other businessmen.

But Fox News refused to play ball. They wouldn’t cave to pressure from a candidate -- no matter who, no matter how wealthy -- and they were right, both journalistically and economically, as ratings did not suffer.

Frustrated, Trump did take his football and go home, boycotting the debate in a move that he initially -- and probably accurately -- blamed for his loss in Iowa.

But that was before he decided on a different “narrative” for Iowa: Cruz had actually stolen the caucus election. In a Twitter Tornado, Trump cited two actions which were both legitimate in the context of an election campaign, but citing them as if they were criminal acts whose heinous nature should automatically nullify Cruz’s win. Plus, he reasoned, Cruz had dared to accuse Trump of positions the Great Man no longer found comfortable. Surely that was wrong, too, wasn’t it?

The first action he cited was the so-called “Voter Violation” mailer sent by the Cruz campaign. This mailer used sophisticated data analysis to be able to tell voters when (and when not) both they and their neighbors had last voted. The ideal was to shame voters into going to the polls. Trump made this out as a fraud, though his reasoning for that charge isn’t clear. However, as Fox News reported, Iowa Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told Martha MacCallum that both Marco Rubio and the Iowa Republican Party had also sent out similar mailers.

Cruz explained that mailer this way: “I will apologize to nobody for using every tool we can to encourage Iowa voters to come out and vote.”

While saying that “everybody does it” is not, in itself, a viable defense, in this case, the lieutenant governor of Iowa was making it clear that this is not fraudulent -- rather, it is a common and acceptable practice in Iowa.

Trump’s next reason for crying foul was the indisputable fact that some Cruz campaign leaders distributed information to precinct-level Cruz campaigners based on a published CNN report that indicated that Ben Carson was ending his run. This CNN report was based on ambiguous comments Carson had made, in which he was not clear in stating that, after a couple of days off in Florida, he would return to the campaign trail. When that article ran, Carson was quick to correct it, and CNN was equally quick to run a correction.

Cruz’s supposed “sin” was in not issuing an internal correction to his own precinct staffers, who -- lacking other information -- continued to push the original CNN report.

The real fault, if there was one, was in Carson’s initial ambiguous lack of specificity. This was compounded by the CNN reporter’s failure to follow-up and confirm his understanding of Carson’s intent before running with a story of this major significance. Once that story was “out there,” every competing campaign should have been spreading this published news -- attributing it, of course, to CNN. That is what political campaigns do. They use every fact at their command to promote their candidate and undermine their opponents. 

And this was a fact. Not that Carson was getting out, but that CNN reported that Carson was getting out.

By any reasonable standard of politics, this is fair play. The “ultimate” fair play -- and what Cruz later apologized for -- was that, when the correction came out, the Cruz camp did not circulate that update to their precinct captains, and in doing so, defusing a bit of misreporting. 

But even if ethically questionable, that choice is hardly cause for nullifying an election.

Nothing Cruz’s precinct teams did was illegal or even inaccurate, based on what they knew. Yet Donald Trump insisted in the first of a series of vitriolic tweets, that “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!”

He then tweeted, “Many people voted for Cruz over Carson because of this Cruz fraud. Also, Cruz sent out a VOTER VIOLATION certificate to thousands of voters,” which, as the lieutenant governor of Iowa noted, was also done by Rubio and the state Republican Party.

Trump continued tweeting, “The Voter Violation certificate gave poor marks to the unsuspecting voter (grade of F) and told them to clear it up by voting for Cruz. Fraud.”

Then he wrapped up his Twitter tirade with two posts. First:  “And finally, Cruz told thousands of caucusgoers (voters) that Trump was strongly in favor of ObamaCare and “choice” -- a total lie.” 

While those charges may not be currently accurate, Trump was at one time a strong public advocate for both ObamaCare and “choice, and if this campaign has shown us anything, it’s that all candidates are being held liable for their “sins of the past” political decisions, the ones they held before they changed their positions in order to run for president.

Finally, Trump tweeted: “Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified.”

That’s quite a bit of vitriol for five little Tweets, and it certainly got Trump back in the news.

However, on top of his other recent petulant and bullying actions, this kind of factless and totally self-centered charge is not likely to play as well as his outlandish policy statements. He’s quickly developing a pattern of self-pity, blame, and unreasonable demands backed by unreasonable actions.

Ultimately, that will not play well with American voters, who will tire of the “big man” who can’t accept a setback without blaming someone else.

Ned Barnett has been a political and campaign consultant since 1974, and owns Barnett Marketing Communications, based in Las Vegas. He has written ten books on effective communications, and taught at several universities, but he primarily focuses on in-the-trenches PR and media relations. He is currently writing a book on how to win election campaigns.

Earlier this week, Trump performed less well than expected in Iowa.

At first, he was gracious and magnanimous, even accepting the blame for his setback. But that was then. Now, Trump is demanding a do-over of the entire Iowa caucus. It didn’t go his way, so of course there must have been corruption, and the only way to overcome that corruption is to do it all over, so he can have a fair chance of winning.

Huh?

Such behavior -- in isolation -- is probably survivable. But it’s becoming a pattern, and that pattern is dangerously close to wearing thin. Very soon, what voters once saw Trump as a refreshing voice of candor and independence might start viewing him as an entitled rich kid who’s used to getting his own way -- petulant, perhaps even childish.

Instead of making outlandish and news-generating statements about political issues -- from Mexican immigrants to Syrian refugees -- The Donald has, of late, focused almost exclusively on going postal on his critics. When it comes to criticism or setbacks, it appears that the Great Negotiator has a remarkably thin skin. Three quick, recent, examples:

First, the National Review pulled together 22 conservatives, each of who penned an opinion article on why Trump was not the right choice for conservatives. Most candidates, confronted with something like this, would either laugh it off, suggesting that it was part of a “vast middle-of-the-road conspiracy,” or just ignore it. Trump, however, felt the need to go all medieval on the National Review itself -- getting personal in his attacks on that venerable, and admittedly struggling, conservative publication.

Next, Trump generated an issue where there was one, continually attacking Megyn Kelly for the “sin” of asking him a hardball question at the start of the first pre-Iowa debate last summer. This original Trump-fueled kerfuffle went all the way to Roger Ailes before it was “resolved,” and the conflict faded. 

But then, when Megyn Kelly was slated to be a co-moderator in the last debate before Iowa’s caucus, Trump resurrected the controversy and -- once again -- making it personal. He attacked not just Megyn Kelly’s questions, but her professionalism and even herself as an individual. Then, like a spoiled little rich kid, he threatened to “take his football and go home” unless Fox removed Kelly from the panel. Finally, upping the ante, he made it clear that -- CEO to CEO -- he would only accept an apology from Rupert Murdoch. Roger Ailes, though founder and CEO of Fox News, was not enough to assuage Trump’s monumental ego. Not this time.

Any other candidate -- if truly upset -- would have raised the issue, let it play out, then moved on. But Trump was feeling powerful, and thought he could make Fox News bend to his will, to agree to his demands. He even thought he had a “trump card” -- without The Donald, he reasoned, the debate would have no audience, and Fox News would lose millions in ad revenue. As a businessman, he knew how to hurt other businessmen.

But Fox News refused to play ball. They wouldn’t cave to pressure from a candidate -- no matter who, no matter how wealthy -- and they were right, both journalistically and economically, as ratings did not suffer.

Frustrated, Trump did take his football and go home, boycotting the debate in a move that he initially -- and probably accurately -- blamed for his loss in Iowa.

But that was before he decided on a different “narrative” for Iowa: Cruz had actually stolen the caucus election. In a Twitter Tornado, Trump cited two actions which were both legitimate in the context of an election campaign, but citing them as if they were criminal acts whose heinous nature should automatically nullify Cruz’s win. Plus, he reasoned, Cruz had dared to accuse Trump of positions the Great Man no longer found comfortable. Surely that was wrong, too, wasn’t it?

The first action he cited was the so-called “Voter Violation” mailer sent by the Cruz campaign. This mailer used sophisticated data analysis to be able to tell voters when (and when not) both they and their neighbors had last voted. The ideal was to shame voters into going to the polls. Trump made this out as a fraud, though his reasoning for that charge isn’t clear. However, as Fox News reported, Iowa Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told Martha MacCallum that both Marco Rubio and the Iowa Republican Party had also sent out similar mailers.

Cruz explained that mailer this way: “I will apologize to nobody for using every tool we can to encourage Iowa voters to come out and vote.”

While saying that “everybody does it” is not, in itself, a viable defense, in this case, the lieutenant governor of Iowa was making it clear that this is not fraudulent -- rather, it is a common and acceptable practice in Iowa.

Trump’s next reason for crying foul was the indisputable fact that some Cruz campaign leaders distributed information to precinct-level Cruz campaigners based on a published CNN report that indicated that Ben Carson was ending his run. This CNN report was based on ambiguous comments Carson had made, in which he was not clear in stating that, after a couple of days off in Florida, he would return to the campaign trail. When that article ran, Carson was quick to correct it, and CNN was equally quick to run a correction.

Cruz’s supposed “sin” was in not issuing an internal correction to his own precinct staffers, who -- lacking other information -- continued to push the original CNN report.

The real fault, if there was one, was in Carson’s initial ambiguous lack of specificity. This was compounded by the CNN reporter’s failure to follow-up and confirm his understanding of Carson’s intent before running with a story of this major significance. Once that story was “out there,” every competing campaign should have been spreading this published news -- attributing it, of course, to CNN. That is what political campaigns do. They use every fact at their command to promote their candidate and undermine their opponents. 

And this was a fact. Not that Carson was getting out, but that CNN reported that Carson was getting out.

By any reasonable standard of politics, this is fair play. The “ultimate” fair play -- and what Cruz later apologized for -- was that, when the correction came out, the Cruz camp did not circulate that update to their precinct captains, and in doing so, defusing a bit of misreporting. 

But even if ethically questionable, that choice is hardly cause for nullifying an election.

Nothing Cruz’s precinct teams did was illegal or even inaccurate, based on what they knew. Yet Donald Trump insisted in the first of a series of vitriolic tweets, that “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!”

He then tweeted, “Many people voted for Cruz over Carson because of this Cruz fraud. Also, Cruz sent out a VOTER VIOLATION certificate to thousands of voters,” which, as the lieutenant governor of Iowa noted, was also done by Rubio and the state Republican Party.

Trump continued tweeting, “The Voter Violation certificate gave poor marks to the unsuspecting voter (grade of F) and told them to clear it up by voting for Cruz. Fraud.”

Then he wrapped up his Twitter tirade with two posts. First:  “And finally, Cruz told thousands of caucusgoers (voters) that Trump was strongly in favor of ObamaCare and “choice” -- a total lie.” 

While those charges may not be currently accurate, Trump was at one time a strong public advocate for both ObamaCare and “choice, and if this campaign has shown us anything, it’s that all candidates are being held liable for their “sins of the past” political decisions, the ones they held before they changed their positions in order to run for president.

Finally, Trump tweeted: “Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified.”

That’s quite a bit of vitriol for five little Tweets, and it certainly got Trump back in the news.

However, on top of his other recent petulant and bullying actions, this kind of factless and totally self-centered charge is not likely to play as well as his outlandish policy statements. He’s quickly developing a pattern of self-pity, blame, and unreasonable demands backed by unreasonable actions.

Ultimately, that will not play well with American voters, who will tire of the “big man” who can’t accept a setback without blaming someone else.

Ned Barnett has been a political and campaign consultant since 1974, and owns Barnett Marketing Communications, based in Las Vegas. He has written ten books on effective communications, and taught at several universities, but he primarily focuses on in-the-trenches PR and media relations. He is currently writing a book on how to win election campaigns.