Then, of course, there was Trump’s most flamboyant episode of pulling back the curtain. During the first Republican debate last August, he was asked about an earlier claim that he had bought himself scads of politicians over the years. Did Trump dispute the charge? Of course not: “I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people before this. Before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me.”
This honesty earned Trump only mild pushback from his debate colleagues, perhaps because some of them had been the beneficiaries of Donald’s largesse over the years—a fact he also did not hesitate to share. Repeatedly. In fact, arguably the first blood of the evening was drawn when Rand Paul accused Trump of not being a true conservative as evidenced by his “hedging his bets” by “buying politicians of all stripes.” An unruffled Trump responded by telling the audience of Paul: “I’ve given him plenty of money.”
Trump has also not been shy about his manipulation of the political media. In October, he threatened to boycott the CNBC debate unless it altered the format to please him (which it did). Three months later, he got into a far juicier tiff with Fox News, resulting in his skipping the Iowa debate and organizing a competing media spectacle. In the final hours before the debate, Trump shared with CNN his story of how Fox News chairman Roger Ailes had come a-calling to try to make nice with Trump and lure the debate season’s biggest draw back onto the stage.
Then there was that awkward on-air moment when Trump, in a phone interview with “Morning Joe” Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, thanked the MSNBC hosts for being such steadfast “supporters” of his. The words had barely left Trump’s mouth when Scarborough began scrambling to downplay his and Mika’s chumminess with the candidate.
And while the sleazy tricks that helped Ted Cruz win Iowa—including peddling the rumor that Ben Carson was on the verge of dropping out of the race and urging his supporters to support Cruz instead—would have come to light regardless, the word spread faster and farther when Trump threatened to sue Team Cruz over them.
Trump’s gleeful exposure of a political order most voters already regard as hopelessly broken is a tactic both effective and tough to counter. The more Trump spotlights the ways in which the system is stacked against regular folks, the more they love him for his straight talk—and the more they loathe the elites who are trying to stop him. And his team knows it. In an interview with Breitbart News on Monday, Corey Lewandowski beat the establishment-is-out-to-get-us drum hard:
This is the fundamental problem with the ruling class in Washington, DC—the party bosses, the K Street crowd, the lobbyists who control all these politicians. They will do anything to maintain their power. They will do anything. They will say anything. They will spend whatever it takes because they know that if Donald Trump becomes the nominee and ultimately the president of the United States, the days of backroom deals are over. He will only be responsible to the American people.
Whatever you think of Trump, the first part of Lewandowski’s analysis is hard to dispute. And so continues the accelerating, self-perpetuating vortex that the Republican establishment seems helpless to control. Going after Trump only proves the thesis underlying his entire candidacy, giving the creature fresh blood to continue its rampage.