"Trump is a pig and a thug, the political equivalent of a terrorist.''
-- In Trump's own words: "Somebody said this.''
In a long rhetorical slog for the most inventive invectives and corrective character assessments of the presumptive Republican Party nominee for president in 2016, no loathsome lodestone has gone unturned.
First it was his own party's rivals who thought they might beat Donald Trump at his own vitriol. After all, it was he who started the social-media mudslinging: "Low-energy Jeb, Little Marco, Lyin' Ted'' and now "Crooked Hillary.'' Yet even the party's own nominee in the last presidential election couldn't deflect Trump at lingo Bingo. "A phony, a fraud,'' Mitt Romney called him in vain. "Choke-artist,'' Trump concluded.
The more they have fought fire with fire, the brighter the brash billionaire's bonfire has burned.
Now it's Hillary Clinton's turn. Trump "is not just unprepared -- he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility,'' the presumptive Democratic nominee for president said last week. "Donald Trump's ideas aren't just different -- they are dangerously incoherent. They're not even really ideas -- just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds, and outright lies.''
It's not only Trump's readiness with direct assaults on stage, on camera and on Twitter that propel his candidacy. It's also his penchant for unsupported innuendo that irritates anyone attempting to engage him in debate.
Like his words on Fox News for President Barack Obama's intentional avoidance of the term "radical Islamic terrorism'' in the fight against ISIS and other militants in the Middle East and at home: "There are a lot of people that think maybe he doesn't want to get it,'' Trump said on Fox News in the aftermath of the weekend massacre at a night club in Orlando. "I happen to think that he just doesn't know what he's doing, but there are many people that think maybe he doesn't want to get it. He doesn't want to see what's really happening. And that could be."
Obama minced no words in his reaction to Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric after the attack carried out by the son of an Afghan immigrant, the biggest mass-shooting by a criminal on U.S. soil and worst terrorist attack on the mainland since 9/11 almost 15 years ago.
"We're starting to see where this kind of rhetoric and loose talk and sloppiness about who exactly we're fighting, where this can lead us,'' Obama said today. "What exactly would using this language accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to try and kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above," he said. "Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away."
Just as calling Trump names does not make him go away.
"He was more angry at me than he was at the shooter, and many people said that,'' Trump said after Obama's remarks, portrayed by CNN's evening political newsletter as "a stunning soliloquy on live television... a president castigating one of the two people who could succeed him." Yet it was Trump who was operating in his own stunning "some people say" deflection mode. "The level of anger -- that's the kind of anger he should have for the shooter and these killers that shouldn't be here.''
The first problem with this insulting campaign is that none of the most creative criticism for either Trump or Clinton reaches beyond the choirs of the candidates' own most fervent supporters. It's about as intellectually challenging as tuning in to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow for her newest screed on Trump -- poking fun at his use of the odd word "bigly,'' she said that's the name of one of her dogs and suggested, "I think he's messaging me'' -- or Fox News' Sean Hannity for his latest indictment of the Clintons in general -- "wait until she has to start answering for her scandal-ridden past.''
Instead of sculpting adjectives, some have attempted to place Trump in a greater and "bigly" dangerous historical context -- he as the latest in a long tradition of demagogues, even fascists. He is playing, as others have before him, on the prejudices and fears of the lesser educated, the under-employed and fully bigoted -- "there are a lot of people who think that,'' remember.
An erstwhile mentor of mine compares this year's campaign with George Wallace's in 1972. "Wallace had 'busing' as code for blacks, Trump has Mexicans and Muslims,'' journalism dean Tom Fiedler writes from Boston. "Both attacked their party's establishment, the press, liberals, intellectuals, and both incited violence at their rallies). Many people today also aren't aware that, had Wallace not been shot on May 15th of that year, he would have won the Democratic primary, defeating George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey.'' After explaining this to an audience, Fiedler writes at Facebook, "an older man in the audience, who had been a child in WW II, asked me if I also saw the parallels between Trump's appeal to voters and the rise of the Nazi Party in the 1930s. I was taken aback by the question and told him that I wasn't prepared to draw a parallel between those who supported the Nazis -- and specifically Hitler -- and Trump. Now I am.''
Yet even these more probing reasons for explaining and potentially resisting Trump's rise to power this year carry little sway among those to whom Trump's words have given voice, and serve mainly to reinforce the views of those who simply cannot believe this is happening in 21st Century America.
For the longest time, the conventional wisdom had it that Trump's own words eventually would sink him. After all, this is all on camera, all online, all rewindable in campaign commercials.
-- On that business about Trump the "pig'' -- "some say so:"
"Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don't use a politician's filter.,'' Fox News' Megyn Kelly asked him during the first televised Republican debate. "You've called women you don't like 'fat pigs,' 'dogs,' 'slobs' and 'disgusting animals.' ...Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women's looks. You once told a contestant on 'Celebrity Apprentice' it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president...?"
It wasn't so much Trump's response as his comments about Kelly the next day that stuck: "She gets out and she starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions," Trump said in an interview with CNN. "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever. In my opinion, she was off base." (He meant her nose, he tweeted the next day.)
-- On that business about Trump the "thug" -- some (like Clinton) do say so.
In her first campaign ad, the former secretary of state is airing footage of Trump's comments at campaign rallies, where fights have broken out more than once. "I'd like to punch him in the face,'' Trump is seen saying of one protester. "Knock the crap out of them, would ya'? -- Seriously.''
-- On that political terrorism of Trump's -- some (like Obama) say so.
In his speech the day after the slaughter in Orlando, Trump issued a broad indictment of the American Muslim community. "I want us all to work together, including in partnership with our Muslim communities,'' he said. "But Muslim communities must cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad -- and they do know where they are.''
"Each year, the United States permanently admits more than 100,000 immigrants from the Middle East, and many more from Muslim countries outside the Middle East. Our government has been admitting ever-growing numbers, year after year, without any effective plan for our security.'' Clinton, he alleged, is ready to admit fivefold more, "without a screening plan.... Altogether, under the Clinton plan, you'd be admitting hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East with no system to vet them, or to prevent the radicalization of their children.''
If one shooter could inflict so much damage in Orlando, he said, "Can you imagine what they'll do in large groups, which we're allowing now to come here?... This could be a better, bigger version of the legendary Trojan horse.''
Today, the president denounced the presidential nominee's language as "dangerous." "We hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence... What I will not do is demonize and declare war on an entire religion,'' Obama said.
What we really haven't heard from yet is that vast voting bloc known as middle-of-the-road America, attuned neither to the right nor left, passing up MSNBC and Fox for CSI TV reruns. This may come down to one of those contests where we simply have to trust the maturity of the American people.
Years ago, I sat through a lengthy federal trial in which the government set out to sting a powerful politician and his nephew. The targets caught on to the investigation and blew the lid on it. The government took them both to court. After weeks of testimony and evidence, it was clear that the feds had secured the goods on the nephew, but had not made a case against their primary target. It was deeply complicated and twisted, the difference between the two, and the jury went out for a long time. These 12 Americans returned a split judgment: The nephew convicted, politician acquitted.
Our best hope in November lies in the verdict of our many peers.
Some say they're really good at this.