Hillary Clinton looks like she sleeps well. She looks like she’s in one of those commercials for mattresses that promise to cure death. She might as well replace all the words in her stump speeches with whistling. And good for her. It’s what a normal person should do in her position. She won’t even have to watch the returns on election night. She’s president already.
It’s not supposed to be that easy. A presidential candidate is supposed to have an opponent. But Donald “I Don’t Understand What Puberty Is And I’m Taking It Out On My Action Figures By Melting Them With A Butane Torch” Trump wasn’t up to the task. He didn’t do the homework. He didn’t even have the common grifter decency to cheat on the homework.
And now he’s in the history books as the chief architect of the worst presidential campaign in modern American history, and the walls aren’t even finished falling. But how can we begin to figure out where it all went wrong when it was all wrong? How do we peer through the smoke and hear beyond the yelling to learn which wounds were the most lethal? This is history. A chronology must be established. To determine one, I went back to Nogales to seek the assistance of my political expert, One-Arm Wilford, who knows everything about politics and lives in a train yard.
He was silent at first, nursing a dying barrel fire with a two-by-four. And he didn’t seem to have any idea what I was talking about when I asked for a timeline of Donald Trump’s moribund general election campaign. “Come on! Surely you have some opinions on his nonexistent ground game!” I said, shocked at his lack of interest, but he just stared out at the sun as it dipped below a charred boxcar.
There was only one way to get him to open up. I gave him his customary fee: a box of Moon Pies and a bottle of absinthe. Suddenly my expert was rich with political insight, and by three in the morning, we established exactly when and how Donald Trump failed. I reproduce the timeline for you here, without ornament:
JULY 21, 2016: The Convention Speech
Trump’s first speech as the Republican nominee may seem a premature place to begin, but if you look closely, the warning signs were all there. His speechwriters did an elegant job of burying them, so a keen eye is required, but he was already dangling one foot over the grave. From the transcript:
“[I will renegotiate] NAFTA to get a much better deal for America, and we’ll walk away if we don’t get the deal that we want. Our country is going to start building and making things again. [ beat] We’re going to make a machine. My machine. It’ll be so powerful. You’ll be so sick with power. You have no idea how much power this machine is capable of unleashing. I can’t even tell you, OK? So much power. It’s a beautiful machine.”
A fairly standard Trump talking point, but note the caveats. He says he’ll bring back manufacturing, but only on his terms. And he says nothing substantive of his machine, only that it will be “powerful,” an early indication that he has no meaningful plans for the presidency.
AUGUST 31, 2016: Mexico City
After a rocky month on the campaign trail, where Trump was beset by a lack of discipline, an inability to stay on message, and a shocking willingness to pick fights, he gave a deeply misguided speech in Mexico City. Ostensibly there to extend an olive branch to Mexico by tempering his anti-immigration rhetoric, he instead flailed wildly, demanding access to the legendary Jesuit treasure of Guadalupe de Tayopa, lost for hundreds of years in the punishing Sonora desert. Loud and needlessly aggressive, he didn’t look like a president. He looked like a dictator.
SEPTEMBER 26, 2016: The First Debate
Donald Trump is a reality TV star, not a debater, so his loss was anticipated, but nobody likes unsportsmanlike conduct, and he violated every rule of decorum as he went down. When Hillary Clinton grilled him on his tax returns, asking what he had to hide, he was briefly overcome by facial twitching before spitting out, “If I show you where my money is going, I won’t be able to get what I need. My machine will be useless. That makes you a betrayer. You don’t believe America deserves this power.”
When Clinton — composed, methodical — replied, “You and I both know you’re only in this for Jesuit gold,” Trump melted down.
“Liar! I do not need the gold! The gold simply powers the machine! Liar!” he roared, with the composure of a schoolyard bully and the vocabulary to match.
OCTOBER 4, 2016: The Vice-Presidential Debate
Donald Trump wasn’t even in the room for one of his campaign’s most grievous errors. They let the machine become the object of Beltway gossip, and lost control of the message. The night of the debate, one GOP insider put it all out in the open, dooming Mike Pence from the start.
“The machine ... it had legs. Like a spider. I heard it was originally designed to rob banks, but the plan evolved with the technology. Look, some ex-CIA guys ran flight tests. Something on it, something that glowed ... I saw them. They clawed their eyes out. It killed them. That’s all I’ll say.”
The Clinton team took notes, and Tim Kaine deployed it to the best of his abilities.
“I’d like to know how the heck Governor Pence plans to respond to allegations that Trump’s machine destabilized half of the Pacific tectonic plates. I’d like to know why it’s killed birds by the hundreds of thousands all the way to Madagascar,” demanded Kaine, a mere three minutes into the debate.
“Sorry, that doesn’t work. That doesn’t work for me. Mr. Trump’s machine has only one goal: creating jobs. Sure, maybe volcanic activity has increased. But correlation, Mr. Kaine, is not causation. You should know that,” replied a composed but disturbingly motionless Pence, who didn’t blink the rest of the night.
“Birds are falling out of the sky! The average temperature in the Mojave Desert has increased over 20 degrees in the last three months! Scientists and nuclear engineers are going missing by the dozens!” Kaine shot back.
Then Pence damned himself, and Trump with him.
“Give me a break. One hot summer in Palmdale? Roswell, Edwards Air Force Base, Marfa, Trona, eight or nine dozen missing scientists? Those are red herrings. They are not proof of our death machine.”
OCTOBER 9, 2016: The Second Debate
Trump only had one thing going for him by the second week of October: Nobody watches the VP debates, so awareness that the machine was internally known as a “death machine” was not commonplace. Clinton didn’t even mention it when she returned to the ring with Trump. The closest she got was an allusion to “your ridiculous flying contraption.” But she got plenty of other hits in.
“I want to know why your foundation purchased a numbers station and has been broadcasting a series of uncrackable ‘one-time pads’ across the American Southwest since mid-August. What does this station control?” she asked coolly. He drank water and tried to respond, but could only choke out the words “VINCE FOSTER.”
“And why have you spent the last three days at the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Пе́ченгский райо́н, a.k.a. the Pechengsky District? I think Americans deserve an explanation,” she asked in a follow-up, to which Trump replied by saying “Sorry, OK? Sorry I’m going to be so powerful, I’m so sorry the strong will overpower the weak.”
But the K.O. came from an audience member: Burt Barlow, an undecided voter from Jeffrey City, Wyoming.
“Mr. Trump, now, I tend bar out in this little place in Wyoming, used to be a uranium mining boomtown, but they closed the mine back in ’82. Well, sir, I can’t hardly sleep at night because there are all these White Freightliners with your name on them going all over town from midnight to four in the darn morning. And there’s all these drilling noises and subsonic hums, green light as bright as day, and I ... I’d just like to know what you plan to do about that ruckus.”
“Hillary Clinton deleted so many emails, let’s talk about that,” Trump said.
OCTOBER 14, 2016: The Fox & Friends Appearance
When most presidential candidates were riding hell for leather in the swing states, Donald Trump was sitting in the Fox News studio, looking and sounding defeated. He said the election was rigged on four (4) separate occasions, and alluded to the prospect of opening a new hotel once it was over.
Reaching for levity, host Steve Doocy started riffing about Trump’s campaign stumbling blocks.
“Oh man, Don – I can call you Don, right? – your death machines are really having some trouble. They’re crashing all over. New Mexico, South Dakota, Nevada. One of them burned down a house in Elko!”
“I’ve bought the McClanahans a beautiful new house,” muttered an exhausted Trump.
“So the idea, you know, Oliver North comes by sometimes, I mean, these suckers reproduce? A self-aware death machine? So why are they crashing, Don? Are they denying their programming? Are they aware that they’re a harbinger of unspeakable evil and they’re putting a stop to your madness? Why are they crashing if they’re so smart?”
“Polls show we’re doing very well, very, very well in Iowa and Florida, we’re gonna win this thing, America is going to win so much,” said Trump, his face wan and his eyes half-open.
OCTOBER 19, 2016: The Final Debate
Clinton didn’t need to speak in the last debate. Trump spent the whole night demonstrating exactly how unprepared he was, exactly how fraudulent he was, exactly what a farce it had all become. But she did speak, and this time she spoke about the right thing.
“Donald, your rallies have been getting darker and darker as your death machines began to fail and drive your scientists insane. You can’t finish sentences and you invent strange and complicated theories that never progress toward a logical end point. Your machines were smart enough to know they were carrying out wickedness, and they were smart enough to stop themselves.”
“The morality sensor has been removed. A mistake. Paul Ryan’s mistake. The machines are so much more luxurious now, OK? They’re so strong. I’m so strong. I’ll have this power, I’ll use this power. You don’t get to know what I’ll do with it. I’m going to make our country so beautiful, there will only be strength in my country. Weakness will be eliminated.”
“You cannot operate a country solely with strength. You will fail. You’re trying to be God,” interjected moderator Chris Wallace.
“Oh Chris. Oh Chris. Oh no. That’s not right at all. That’s so wrong. I’m not trying to be God. I’m not trying to be God. I’m not trying to be God,” he stammered. “I’m trying to replace God, OK? OK? I’m wheat! Society is chaff!” he choked, taking a sip of water.
“Help, this water has turned to sand in my mouth.”
And just like that, with that quiet admission of fallibility, he was out of road. That night, the grand Trump experiment, an attempt to turn WorldNetDaily and Breitbart bar-fight fodder into a political platform, with no theoretical or philosophical grounding whatsoever, came to a close. He’s not admitting it, not explicitly. It’s too embarrassing. His fans won’t allow it. His yes-men won’t allow it. His children won’t allow it. His pride won’t allow it. Donald Trump will stand in the pouring rain and say it’s sunny before he owns up to the unflattering truth: that he will not be president. His machine didn’t work.