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Paul Kengor / April 4, 2016

Talking Trump

Dealing with the Mouth of the Republican Front-Runner

With Donald Trump now such a prominent voice, many of us are confronted with the necessity of explaining him and his behavior to our children.

I recently wrote of one such moment. I was watching a Republican presidential debate as my eight-year-old sat next to me. Trump, the front-runner, looked left and ripped Ted Cruz as a “liar” before pivoting right and skewering Marco Rubio as a “sweating choke artist.”

“Lying Ted!” Trump barked. “Choking Marco!” he snapped.

My eight-year-old laughed, as if we’d just tuned in to Cartoon Network. “No, John,” I told him. “That’s not funny. We shouldn’t treat people that way.”

My article listed a bunch of examples of such Trump behavior, including the political rallies where he urged his supporters to assault protesters. “Knock the crap out of them!” Trump ordered at one rally. “I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees, I promise. I promise.”

Then there is the obsessive-compulsive name-calling: If Donald Trump doesn’t like you, or if you dare criticize him, you can find yourself the target of one of his favorite descriptions: liar, loser, stupid, joke. Or, if you’re a woman, “bimbo” or “ugly.”

Anyway, the response to that article was interesting. I wasn’t surprised to see that Trump supporters were unmoved. I have found that the commitment of many them to Trump is unshakable. My friend Peter, a prominent conservative, sheepishly told me recently: “Remember when Trump said he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still vote for him? My mother is one of those supporters.”

One Trump supporter who read my article was appalled — not at Trump, but at me. I was at fault for having my eight-year-old son in the room during a presidential debate.

“I have to question your parenting skills in [having] your kid there in the first place,” he emailed me, calling my article “gutless.” “This is POLITICS not beanbag. And he who subjects his child to it is unwise…. In short you’re a candyass.”

It had never occurred to me that it was inappropriate to let my kid watch a presidential debate.

But such are the new standards in a Donald Trump America. Family-values conservatives, be vigilant: Keep your kids away from the TV if your Republican front-runner is on the screen.

But, of course, in our technological age, that isn’t going to be enough. Your young ones will not be able to avoid Donald Trump in our information era.

I got a taste of that on Good Friday, which forced me to have the “Trump Talk” with my 13-year-old daughter sooner than planned. We were literally on our way to church when she informed me of a message she received that morning from a friend. Rebekah, a conservative girl from a conservative family, was appalled at Trump’s overnight tweet.

The Donald, on Holy Thursday, five minutes before midnight on Good Friday eve, had taken to his favorite weapon: his Twitter account. In a shocking act utterly unbecoming of anyone who should ever be seriously considered for the presidency, Trump personally fired off a salvo. He uncorked two side-by-side photos: an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz juxtaposed against his attractive wife, Melania. The caption mocked: “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

One could almost hear Trump chortling as he smoked off that tweet.

It was a juvenile, flagrant attack on Heidi Cruz’s face by the leading Republican, not unlike Trump’s eruption at Carly Fiorina’s face. (“Look at the face! Can you imagine that the face of our next president?!”)

My daughter was aghast. Is this the man we’re going to vote for? she asked me. She was confused.

And why wouldn’t she be? I’ve always told my kids that virtue and morality are essential in a leader — something all of our Founders said.

Aside from the moral-psychological aspect of Trump’s tweet, consider its sheer political stupidity. Donald Trump’s likability numbers with women are abysmal, an unprecedented record-low for any candidate, even as he and his supporters assure us that women (along with Latinos) are going to swarm to him come November. At current projections, the man would lose a minimum of 40 states against Hillary Clinton.

Thus, Trump is now seeking to dramatically change his tone since his recent dip in the polls. He admits his shot at Heidi Cruz was a “mistake.” But a gentler Trump is merely a poll-driven attitude adjustment. We have seen the true temperament of Donald Trump, and it’s not what most of us expect in a president.

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