"You know how you make America great again?" Sen. Lindsey Graham said on CNN Tuesday morning. "Tell Donald Trump to go to hell." Fine by me.
But before we give him that send-off, there's a whole lot else we should tell him, not that he hears anything other than his own voice and the applause of people who mistake a trash-talking bully for a blunt-talking leader.
We should tell him that we're on to him. We now fully realize that nothing he says -- certainly not this dangerous claptrap about preventing all Muslims from entering the United States -- is meant as an earnest proposal, as serious policy.
No, he's just an addict whose drug of choice is attention, and he can't get enough of it. He's learned that if he presses the lever the right way, with the right provocation, out pops another hit of saturation media coverage, of all Trump all the time.
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As the weeks and days go by, he has to press harder, escalating from the deportation of Mexicans to hallucinated street celebrations in Jersey City to the surveillance of mosques to this latest idiocy. What does he care if he's likened to George Wallace, to Joseph McCarthy, even to Adolf Hitler? Those men aren't even ranting anymore and they're still talked about. Now that's celebrity!
We should tell him how transparent and pathetic his nonstop, unsolicited boasts about polls and crowds have become. No matter the question, his answer is that he's leading the pack. No matter the challenge, his response is that he got a standing ovation.
And so it went Tuesday.
"Massive audience!" he bragged of the supporters who'd turned out for him the previous night. "Thousands of people inside, thousands of people outside -- they couldn't even get in!" We should tell Trump that the man who constantly invokes his popularity is the one who worries that he's unlovable. The man who refers incessantly to his riches is the one who frets that he's worthless.
Is there a needier billionaire on the planet? We should tell him that we, too, question the intensity of Barack Obama's focus on the Islamic State and the terrorist threat, and that even on Sunday, when Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office, we didn't see quite the passion that this moment demands or quite the strength that a fearful country craves.
But what Trump just did took pressure off the president by redirecting the conversation from his tentativeness to Trump's insane overreach. We should tell him that, and we should add that he has practically collaborated with the enemy by playing into a narrative of Muslim persecution and a grand war between civilizations.
He has given the Islamic State and other barbarians a piece of propaganda as big as any of his resorts and as shimmering as any of his office towers.
We should tell him that by setting a standard of such outlandishness and a reference point of such divisiveness, he's helping his Republican rivals, whose own recklessness doesn't draw the scrutiny that it otherwise would. Nothing's shocking in the context of Trump.
So Ted Cruz reacts to the San Bernardino massacre by visiting a firing range and promising such extensive bombing of the Middle East that he'll find out "if sand can glow in the dark." But are we reading about him as the second coming of Barry Goldwater? Not so much, because we're reading about Trump as the second coming of the last century's worst fascists.
We should tell him that even a huckster extraordinaire like him can't sell himself as smart while acting so dumb. He's going to bar Muslims only temporarily, he insisted -- just until Congress figures out "what the hell is going on." But he also portrays members of Congress as nincompoops who can't figure out how to tie their own shoelaces. So Trump's temporary is forever, at least if we apply logic to his illogic.
What's not forever: our surrender to his insidious grandstanding. Our obedient witness to it. We in the media should tell him that once he fades from this presidential race, is no longer a candidate for anything and there's no urgency or compelling public interest in having him phone in to the morning news shows, he's fired. Cut off.
It's cold turkey, Trump. We don't need the ratings, not when they come with the ravings. We should be -- we must be -- better than that.
And he will fade, probably starting now, because while there are scared Americans and petty Americans and moments when all of us lose our way, we're not lost enough to keep indulging him. We're nowhere near that far from greatness.