As The Onion wisely observed, the underlying truth about Donald Trump’s candidacy is that we all “want to see just how far this goes.” We’ve learned that unapologetically lashing out at a group of minorities and bashing an American war hero are on the table, but would a person running for president play an incredibly juvenile prank on one of his opponents? Today we got our answer when Trump read Senator Lindsey Graham’s personal cell-phone number during a televised speech — twice, actually — and urged his supporters to give the South Carolina lawmaker a call.
Trump’s battle with Graham is a continuation of his feud with Senator John McCain. Trump was denounced by nearly every other 2016 candidate, but apparently he was particularly angered by Graham coming to his friend’s defense. “Don’t be a jackass,” Graham said when asked about Trump’s POW-bashing on Tuesday’s CBS This Morning. “Run for president,” he added, “But don’t be the world’s biggest jackass.”
During a campaign speech in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Trump called Graham a “lightweight,” an “idiot,” and a “beggar,” revealing that the senator called him a few years ago and asked him to drop his name during his next Fox News appearance. Then Trump pulled out the piece of paper where he’d jotted down Graham’s number and said people should “try it.”
Try it they did. Politico was able to get through, but by the time Newsweek tried the number it went to an answering service that said the senator was not available. A short time later, Graham’s campaign manager released a statement suggesting that a willingness to doxx political foes is not something Americans are looking for in a commander-in-chief.
But Graham seemed to be taking it in stride. He joked on Twitter:
On Tuesday night the Washington Post caught up with Graham, who was on his way to see Minions with Senator Kelly Ayotte and her two young children. He showed that the calls were still coming in but said half of them were actually people telling him to “keep it up,” not Trump supporters. Graham said he’d been letting Ayotte’s kids answer some calls on the ride over, and her son reported, “The mailbox is definitely full.”
If there’s any strategy behind Trump’s latest move (aside from trolls’ well-known affinity for lulz), it seems he wanted to prove he’s not afraid of his fellow candidates. But Trump may have inadvertently revealed that there is one group he’s worried about angering. Before giving out Graham’s phone number, he mentioned, “Fox and Friends are so great. Brian and Steve and Elizabeth, they’re great people, right? They’re great!”
As the New York Times notes, long before Trump officially entered the political arena, he was feuding with Rupert Murdoch about various mogul concerns, such as negative New York Post coverage, exclusive golf memberships, and high-profile divorces. Thus, if Trump wants favorable Fox News coverage, he’ll have to win over CEO Roger Ailes.
The pair reportedly had lunch last month, though that didn’t prevent Bill O’Reilly from criticizing Trump when he appeared on his show this week. While a Fox News spokeswoman contested this assessment, sources told the Times that treating Trump as a serious candidate is a win-win for Ailes: the eventual Republican nominee will have time to hone his campaigning skills, and in the meantime, Fox News gets a ratings boost – and they don’t even have to pay Trump a salary.