So the story that now emerges out of the DNC is how the best speech on Thursday night if not the
entire convention was Khirzr Kahn. It has over-shadowed Hillary Clinton’s and through the weekend the media went apoplectic over how Donald Trump responded first in attacking the Kahn’s and then in declaring “While I feel deeply for the loss of his son, Mr. Khan who has never met me, has no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution, (which is false) and say many other inaccurate things.”
Yet again the politicians and the pundits have declared that this is the controversy that will doom Trump. For those who remember, Khan’s comments are reminiscent of the testimony in 1954 by Joseph Welch who brought down Joe McCarthy with his “Have You No Sense of Decency" retort. Some are asking whether Trump just had his Welch moment. I doubt it.
First, there are lots of reasons to condemn what Trump said. It reveals his thin-skinness, his inability to admit he is wrong, and a quick temper that all tell us something about his character and perhaps fitness to hold office. All this is what the Democrats are saying and the Khan controversy adds to their talking points about what Trump is not fit to be president.
Yet there is something deeper in terms of Trump’s comments that are more significant in terms of a criticism that suggest parallels between him and Joe McCarthy. Specifically, it the contempt both share(d) for the Constitution. When Trump says that Mr. Khan“has no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution,” Trump actually proves the point that Khan is seeking to make. Specifically, the Constitution, more specifically the First Amendment, gives Khan and everyone else-citizen and non-citizen–the right to criticize public figures and officials. What Mr. Khan did was engage in core political speech–the most protected form of speech that our First Amendment protects.
To use the language of the law, when Trump said Khan had no right to claim he had not red the Constitution, Trump is more or less estopped in his denial that he never read the Constitution, or at least understands it. But this would not be the first time that Trump has displayed no working knowledge of the Constitution. His comments last year about the Fourteenth Amendment and citizenship for immigrants was one example. Him saying that he would defend the non-existent Article XII of the Constitution, or declaring at the RNC that he alone could fix America’s problems (to the apparent disregard of the concepts of checks and balances and separation of powers) all suggest Trump is woefully ignorant when it comes to the Constitution. Were he my Introduction to American Politics student he might well earn an F as a final grade for his lack of knowledge of basic American civic and government.
But none of this might matter–I doubt these latest comments will hurt him much. For starters, all but a few people have already made up their opinions about Trump. For those who support him these comments will not change their mind. For those who oppose him, the same. The only impact here will be upon the few swing or undecided voters in a few swing states in terms of how this latest controversy affects how they might vote. For these few voters, Trump’s comments either will long be forgotten by November 8. Or for these voters and perhaps the public at large, they may already be numb to Trump’s comments. He has already insulted so many people so many times these comments are simply one more and they may not make a difference.
There is another reason too why Trump’s comments may not hurt him–he managed yet again to dominate the news cycle. Little attention was given to Clinton over the weekend. Her and Kaine toured Pennsylvania yet she received minimal coverage. Trump controlled the news cycle again, forcing Democrats again to react to what he said. So long as Trump forces Democrats to react to what he said he wins, making it more difficult for the Democrats to articulate their views and opinions.
So yes, Trump got it all wrong constitutionally, his comments again were again offensive, he may be the new Joe McCarthy, but nonetheless it may not matter.