- - Thursday, August 4, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is coming unglued, a victim of his own erratic behavior and often bizarre, self-inflicted blunders.

At a time when the Obama economy is in a nose dive, the job market is weakening and Hillary Clinton is widely seen as dishonest and untrustworthy by a large majority of voters, Mr. Trump’s bombastic, unfocused candidacy is going down in flames.

In any other presidential election where the economy would be the centerpiece of the GOP’s offensive, Mr. Trump has been focusing on one petty grievance after another, ignoring the issues Americans worry about most.

In the past several weeks, Mr. Trump has stumbled his way through one controversy after another, of his own making, instead of focusing his political fire on the failed economic policies of the Democrats.

Since the Republican convention, Mr. Trump has triggered a wave of public anger, including criticism from his own party, when he belittled and denigrated the Muslim American parents of a U.S. soldier who was killed in Iraq by terrorists.

At a time when past Republican candidates have reached out to every section of their party to unite Republicans behind their nominee, Mr. Trump has been busy settling old scores. This week, he refused to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain in their primary campaigns.

Mr. Trump is still harboring old grudges when Mr. Ryan took his time to endorse him, saying he needed to know what his positions were on several issues before making up his mind. “I’m just not there yet,” he said.

Mr. Trump threw those words back at Mr. Ryan Tuesday, telling reporters “I’m just not quite there yet.” Yet Mr. Trump did have kind words for Mr. Ryan’s primary opponent, Paul Nehlen, saying he has run “a very good campaign.”

However, his vice presidential running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, is having none of this childish pettiness. The next day, Mr. Pence broke with Mr. Trump, saying “I strongly support Paul Ryan, [and] strongly endorse his re-election.”

Both Mr. Ryan and Mr. McCain have endorsed Mr. Trump, though they have sharply criticized him for his remarks against Khizr Khan who, with his wife Ghazala at his side, spoke against Mr. Trump at the Democratic national convention.

“Many Muslim Americans have served valiantly in our military, and made the ultimate sacrifice,” Mr. Ryan said. Their son’s “sacrifice — and that of Khizr and Ghazala Kahn — should always be honored. Period.”

Any other candidate would have understood the parents’ grief over the loss of their son and moved on. But Mr. Trump turned it into a mean-spirited feud that stole valuable news media attention away from the far more important issues that will determine the outcome of this election.

But that’s been the story of the last few weeks, as the New York real estate mogul lurches from one controversy to another, often revealing a shocking ignorance of major issues.

Take, for example, Mr. Trump’s apparent acceptance of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, its subsequent annexation, and his drive into eastern Ukraine.

That elicited a wrenching cry for help from Ukraine’s government, whose meager army was no match against Russia’s powerful military forces. President Obama took his own sweet time to marshal a response, but in the end economic sanctions were declared against Moscow and some arms support was forthcoming, grudgingly.

You would think Mr. Trump’s foreign policy advisers would have briefed him on all this. That is, if he has any foreign policy advisers. But in an appearance Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” the former TV reality star seemed woefully in the dark about the invasion and the invader.

Ukraine had been pleading for U.S. assistance in the form of weapons, tanks and other armaments to repel the Russian-backed invasion from the east, and it has been a staple of the GOP’s position ever since — but not with Mr. Trump who opposes giving them the tools to defend itself.

“Why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?” ABC’s host George Stephanopoulos asked Trump.

Well, Mr. Trump replied, such arms support isn’t necessary because “[Putin’s] not going into Ukraine, okay? Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.”

Mr. Stephanopoulos, seemingly flabbergasted because he has read otherwise in all of the newspapers, replied, “Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?”

Mr. Trump admitted, “Okay, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet. You have Obama there and all of the power of NATO and all of this, in the meantime, he’s going where — he takes — takes Crimea, he’s sort of — I mean ” Huh?

What Mr. Trump means by a “certain way” in Crimea “is called annexation, enforced by the Russian army,” writes columnist George Will.

The GOP’s softer platform language? Mr. Trump is sending a clear signal that if Mr. Putin pushes deeper into Ukraine, he will look the other way.

While he’s feuding with two grieving parents, fighting his party’s leadership, and clumsily covering up for Mr. Putin, the economy is going to hell in a hand basket.

This week, the government said the economy barely grew by 1.2 percent in the second quarter, after stalling at a near-recessionary 0.8 percent in the first three months of this year.

The ADP payroll survey for July turned in a “lackluster” jobs report. Business investment continues to decline. And Hillary Clinton plans to sharply raise taxes on anyone who makes too much money.

Sadly, Mr. Trump isn’t talking about any of this.

• Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times

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