There are two kinds of obnoxious people in the eighth grade. One is the loud bully who likes to push smaller or weaker people around. More often than not, they’re surprisingly insecure when pushed back. The other is the rich kid who not only gets whatever he wants but also thinks he deserves to because everyone else is so inferior.

Occasionally, those two traits are combined into one monumentally obnoxious individual. I offer Donald Trump as exhibit A.

Unfortunately, most of these people eventually grow up to become eighth-graders in oversized bodies, or what most people would call adults. But they never seem to lose the eighth-grader’s language, taunting, insults and insecurities.

It’s rare that many of those people succeed in politics, but a few slip through the cracks from time to time. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s comes most readily to mind. When they do, it’s often through a combination of skillful propaganda and an electorate mad with fear and longing for a strongman. And it’s enormously dangerous to democracy.

Trump’s bizarre campaign took a new turn last week when he refused to participate in a Fox News debate because Fox correspondent Megyn Kelly was involved. Kelly was a panelist in the first Fox debate, and she had the audacity to ask Trump a tough question. She asked what Trump’s opinion of women was and cited some of the words he’s used to describe them, including “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “disgusting animals,” “bimbos” and “slobs.”

Trump indirectly answered the question, in true eighth-grade fashion, by accusing Kelly of having “blood coming out of her wherever,” implying that any woman who’d dare ask tough journalistic questions must be in her “monthly time.” The women of America, it seems, are not amused. In recent national polling, women dislike Trump by a 2-1 margin.

The Fox network people didn’t seem to be amused either, when Trump refused to participate in last week’s debate if Kelly were involved. The network quickly vowed that no candidate would dictate the terms of its debates. It then went further by raising questions about what a President Trump would do in the face of criticism from world leaders and enemies if he couldn’t handle a question from a reporter at Fox News.

That’s both a fair and relevant question. It’s a tough and complicated world out there, especially for the president. Trump’s simplified solutions may be appealing to some, but tough talk is just vapor without smart and skilled leadership and a thick-skinned self-confidence.

I suspect that when Trump is eventually defeated in this presidential race, historians will be able to look back to this moment as a turning point. Most of Trump’s supporters like his tough talk, but this action has the whiff of cowardice in a fight, which won’t sit well – perhaps even with his supporters – once all of this sinks in.

Trump seems to be the kind of man who not only likes control but needs it. And as a rich kid who built an empire with dad’s money, he’s used to getting it. It’s hardly an accident that his television persona was invented in a show in which he got to say “you’re fired” each week.

Trump has by now deluded himself into thinking he can run a campaign and a country like a tycoon, exerting full control at all times. That may work for his campaign events, which are tightly staged and only open to adoring supporters. But beyond their own events, candidates don’t get to control much.

Right now, Trump has been enjoying the easy part of this race, which is really a media competition awaiting the first votes to be cast. He’s also running against a gaggle of Republicans who have treated him with kid gloves, fearing retribution from his adoring fans. And he’s had the luck of the draw, with the weakest Republican presidential field in decades.

As the race advances, it will get tougher for Trump. His “lead” in the polls, at the moment, amounts to roughly 35 percent support among Republicans, with 65 percent not supporting him. As the field of candidates winnows from a dozen to three or four, with the others vying to be the final Trump alternative, Republicans will more openly lash out at him, as we’re now seeing.

If he becomes the nominee, Democrats will savage him at every turn, using his own words. When that happens, he’ll look back on Kelly’s gentle jabs with fondness.

For now, Democratic strategists are wearing out their knees each night, praying that Republicans will nominate Trump as their presidential candidate.

Alan Caron, the owner of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy,” can be contacted at:

[email protected]


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