Donald Trump Has Shattered Campaign Norms In Damaging, Potentially Lasting Ways

We have grown numb to policies, rhetoric and conduct that was once far beyond the bounds of acceptability.
Donald Trump has set new precedents in this campaign, and not in good ways.
Donald Trump has set new precedents in this campaign, and not in good ways.
Ji Sub Jeong/Huffington Post

Fairly early into his speech in Michigan on Sunday night, Donald Trump stated that five years ago he had been honored as Michigan “Man of the Year.”

Except it appears no such honor was ever bestowed. Those who would know can’t recall it happening, and the Trump campaign refuses to comment.

It’s a small fib in the grand scheme of things, not one that will change voter perceptions. The cake, as they say, is baked.

But the fact that Trump’s lying is taken for granted, that he casually will say he won Michigan’s “Man of the Year” and plow right on with conviction, says a lot about his campaign and its lasting impact on future elections. Acts that used to engender strong backlash have become mundane. Even worse, important political precedents have been broken and troubling social trends have been normalized.

Donald Trump is now the first major party candidate in 40 years not to release his tax returns during the election. Such an act of secrecy carried political downsides just four years ago when Mitt Romney was hesitant to make his information public. But from here on, there is a precedent that future candidates can cite should they choose the path of non-disclosure.

Trump has been openly hostile to the media. He refused to allow a traveling press corps to fly with him ― a major departure from past nominees. And as documented by The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone, he has called reporters “dishonest” “lying” “scum,” threatened lawsuits, pledged to “open up” libel laws, and singled out correspondents by name at rallies. At those rallies, the treatment of the press has become so alarming that journalists occasionally have had to rely on law enforcement protection to get in and out. And not for lack of reason.

Trump called for the jailing of his opponent, something unheard of in modern democratic presidential campaigns ― and widely denounced as being more customary of a banana republic. “Lock her up” is a staple chant of his campaign rallies. And though it happens less frequently, talk of assassination now pops up with some regularity, too.

Trump made it socially acceptable to broach topics that were once deemed far too offensive for a politician. He effectively encouraged a white nationalist and anti-Semitic following by halfheartedly denouncing its members. He personally retweeted an anti-Semitic image and then expressed regret for taking it down. The Anti-Defamation League condemned his closing ad for playing up anti-Semitic tropes. This reporter ― like others ― was on the receiving end of anti-Semitic vitriol beyond anything experienced in prior campaigns. Others who weren’t even Jewish received that treatment as well.

Trump made it more acceptable to single out and target minority groups. Certainly, there have been xenophobic and nativist threads in campaigns past. But rarely have they been such prominent features of a major nominee’s candidacy: from calling Mexicans rapists to publicly pushing a ban on Muslims entering the country. By the end of campaign, Trump’s tactic had become so customary that the usual denunciations he received were simply left unsaid.

Trump upended decades of bipartisan precedent on nuclear weapons policy, saying that he would be comfortable with more proliferation. His positions were so outside the mainstream ― but so under-discussed ― that former Sen. Bill Bradley felt compelled to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and launch a super PAC ad campaign to spotlight them.

It wasn’t just liberals. Staunch conservative foreign policy figures found Trump’s position utterly unacceptable too.

Trump invited a foreign power to hack his opponent’s emails. He later said he was just joking. But, sure enough, after Russian hackers allegedly stole the emails of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and those emails began appearing on WikiLeaks, Trump made them a major component of his closing argument. One might view this as an act of political opportunism. But the precedent set has been troubling for others. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for one, warned Republicans that they shouldn’t encourage foreign meddling in an election.

Trump also openly admonished veterans and current military leaders. He mocked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for having been captured as a prisoner of war. And recently, as part of a routine denunciation for how the U.S. and Iraq are handling the campaign to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State, he called the military and civilian leadership a “group of losers.” Candidates have criticized the military in the past. But this was personal in a way that major party politicians have not behaved before.

Trump attacked the spouses of his rivals. He went after Bill Clinton for his affairs and indiscretions ― which, one could argue, is fair game since Clinton is a former president who has been in the arena. But Trump’s retweeting of an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz, the wife of primary opponent Sen. Ted Cruz, was shocking in the moment and certainly set a new standard for the treatment of an opponent’s family.

Trump politicized a national security briefing. He declared in a forum that the intelligence officials who briefed him weren’t happy with President Barack Obama, a statement that intelligence officials later said was both highly unlikely and highly inappropriate.

Trump openly delegitimized the election process by repeatedly suggesting the results would be rigged. Other candidates have referenced vote-rigging and election fraud in the past. But none have made it such a prominent feature of rallies, let alone refused to commit to accepting the final vote tally during a debate. One former GOP operative, who literally wrote a book on rigging elections, was appalled by the talk.

“The stuff he is talking about, it is ridiculous ― if it wasn’t so dangerous,” said Allen Raymond, author of How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative. Trump’s comments, he added, were “an existential threat to the republic.”

“The stuff he is talking about, it is ridiculous ― if it wasn’t so dangerous.”

- Allen Raymond author of How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative

One can go on, of course.

Trump also may have set a record, though perhaps not a precedent, in terms of the number of women accusing him of sexual assault as he has run for president (he denies all charges). He isn’t the first politician to hold raucous rallies, but he probably is the first major party presidential candidate to encourage his supporters to rough up the protesters and certainly the first to say he’d cover their subsequent legal bills. Other candidates have dabbled in conspiracy theories, but none with the frequency as Trump.

Defenders of Trump ― and there are many millions ― will argue that some of these acts are virtues; that he is suited for the presidency precisely because he upends norms and conventions. They may also argue that Hillary Clinton has committed sins of a similar nature, and that when it comes to matters of honesty and integrity, she is worse.

Certainly, Clinton has her problems. She misled about her handling of a private email server during her time at the State Department. She lied when she said she did not have classified material cross her server. And she has been slow to disclose matters from her time at the State Department and with respect to her family’s foundation.

But on the whole, she isn’t in the same ecosystem as Trump. To argue otherwise is to live in a post-truth universe. As documented by Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star, Trump has made 560 false claims from mid-September through Sunday, or roughly 20 per day. They happen so frequently that they become, like much of his other conduct, part of what seems like a new normal.

In recent rallies, for example, Trump has told crowds that he had “just left” Arizona ― where he hadn’t been in days ― and was spending $100 million on his campaign, even though he is dozens of millions of dollars short of that goal. The night after he declared in Michigan that he had once received that state’s “Man of the Year” award ― with no apparent evidence to back it up ― he appeared at a rally in Pennsylvania where, once again, he regaled the crowd with the story of how he’d won that honor.

HUFFPOST READERS: What’s happening in your state or district? The Huffington Post wants to know about all the campaign ads, mailers, robocalls, candidate appearances and other interesting campaign news happening by you. Email any tips, videos, audio files or photos to

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

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