If Donald Trump actually wants to serve the American people, which we doubt, he's doing it wrong. On Tuesday, while speaking at a rally in Wilmington, N.C., Trump said of Hillary Clinton: "If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don't know."
Democrats couldn't get to their phones fast enough to register their shock and outrage on Twitter. Journalists and editorial writers knew immediately that they could stop hunting for that day's political jewel; Trump is the gift that keeps on giving.
The defense from Team Trump, including the NRA, was predictable: This is just the media manufacturing controversy by twisting an innocent comment. Trump said he meant that Second Amendment supporters are a powerful political force and that "there can be no other interpretation."
There is no other interpretation, Trump says, for his many purposely ambiguous statements, such as his reference to the blood coming out of Megyn Kelly's "wherever" or when he told a female Apprentice contestant that it "must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees."
Trump's strategy is to wind people up and let 'em go. It explains not only his wink-wink to "Second Amendment people" but his overall abysmal record among fact-checkers, too. He just doesn't care if he gets called out for a threat or lie, and neither do his supporters.
He doesn't mind alienating key demographic groups, either. What did he have to gain from attacking John McCain or the Khan family? Or a disabled journalist? Or a judge because of his Mexican heritage?
And why cozy up to Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange, or tolerate fawning henchmen like state Rep. Al Baldasaro. Pandering to the lunatic fringe isn't going to get him anywhere close to 270 electoral votes. He needs establishment Republicans and independents to win in November, but he keeps telling them to get lost. Why?
And why would he allow himself to get sucked into a controversy about using anti-Semitic imagery in a pointless tweet just as FBI Director James Comey was castigating Clinton over her use of a private email server? Even an unskilled politician would recognize a gift that big sitting in his lap. But Trump missed it?
Is he unintelligent? Mentally unstable? Narcissistic? Politically naive?
Maybe he's all of those, to a degree. But he's also a wealthy businessman who is without peer, except perhaps for the Kardashians, when it comes to personal branding. Trump surely recognized that the best global stage on which to foster a lucrative cult of personality, for himself and his family, was the U.S. presidential election. But the campaign seems to be all he wants.
If Trump desires, above all else, to serve the American people as president, he would have stopped saying stupid things a long time ago. To chalk up his idiocy to a lack of self-control ignores the fact that he almost never expresses regret and almost always doubles down.
Trump is going to lose, and when he does he will blame the media and a rigged system. The establishment, he will say, did to him what it did to Bernie Sanders. His angry followers, who will be called "customers" after the election, will agree — and the Trump brand will grow.
If we're wrong about Trump's true aspirations, why would his aide tell John Kasich's camp that if the Ohio governor agreed to join the ticket, he would be the most powerful vice president in history, in charge of all domestic and foreign policy?
Why would Trump cede policy — the great power of the presidency — to his No. 2 if he actually believed in his own campaign?
Maybe because he doesn't.
The Concord, N.H., Monitor