Donald Trump revels in breaking the rules of campaigning, of political correctness, of pretty much everything. He has smeared whole ethnic groups, mocked the disabled and disdained women not meeting his standards of “beauty”. Each time, we ask whether finally - finally - he has gone too far. And each time his polling numbers return the answer. He has not.
Yet. Let’s try again. Is Mr Trump inviting a foreign power - Russia, no less - to use its well-known talents in cyber-espionage to delve into the emails of his political opponent, Hillary Clinton, and then disseminate those parts they consider most damaging not a new reach even for him?
It was to be expected that when he invited reporters to his Doral golf club and resort near Miami airport on Wednesday Mr Trump would detonate an especially toxic armament. The Democrats are in the midst of their clamourous but nonetheless attention-grabbing convention in Philadelphia.
Keeping the attention of the country on him has been the nuclear turbine of his campaign. He doesn’t spend millions like Ms Clinton on TV ads, he just makes noise himself. And so he did.
The Democratic confab had already been sideswiped even before it started when Wikileaks, the whistle-blowing gang founded by Julian Assange, released a batch of emails from within the Democratic National Committee showing it had been playing favourites during the primary season, seeking ways to support Ms Clinton and undermining her rival, Bernie Sanders.
It would appear that Mr Assange’s dislike for the former US Secretary of State was partly to blame for the email dump. But before long, her campaign was asserting - and US intelligence officials were hinting - that it had been Russian intelligence that had hacked into the DNC servers in the first place, before creating a front account to pass them on to a hungry Wikileaks.
Solid evidence in support of the claim has yet to be presented. Yet, even the notion of it stirred deep alarm. More than four decades ago President Richard Nixon was forced to resign after it emerged that burglars entered the DNC’s Watergate offices to steal some of its secrets on behalf the Republicans and that the president had been part of the ensuing cover-up.
Dots were casually connected in the media between the Russian intrusion into the DNC emails, if that is indeed what occurred, and the campaign of Mr Trump, who had spoken before of his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin. But a candidate for president recruiting a foreign power to hack into Hillary? Unthinkable. It would make Watergate look like tiddlywinks.
Then came Doral on Wednesday and Mr Trump resurrecting the matter of Ms Clinton’s email server when she was Secretary of State and what had become of 30,000 emails she never turned over to investigators. “Russia if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” the candidate roundly proclaimed, before inviting us, the media, to connive with him. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press,” he said.
Trump maniacs at the Republican Convention in Cleveland last week - which meant almost everyone there - routinely and menacingly chanted, ’Lock her up!’ at the mere mention of Ms Clinton’s name. Now who should be locked up? It’s illegal for US presidential campaigns to take money from foreign nationals. If there isn’t a law forbidding them from inviting foreign powers to steal secrets from their opponents surely there should be one. Is treason the correct word?
Mr Trump being Mr Trump, he did not back off after the resulting of explosion. “If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton's 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!” he said in a later Twitter message.
The Doral comment sparked a quick Clinton rebuke. “This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent,” Jake Sullivan, Mrs. Clinton’s chief foreign policy adviser, said. “This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue.”
Mr Trump has previously cast doubt on Russia being behind the DNC breach. When invited by a journalist at least to call on Russia to desist if it is involved, he demurred. “I’m not going to tell Putin what to do,” he said. “Why should I tell Putin what to do?” That led him to describe how much cleverer Mr Putin is at foreign relations that either Ms Clinton or President Barack Obama.
The line between carefully calculated bomb-drop and off-the-cuff quipping for effect is always hard to discern when it comes to Mr Trump. Sometimes he strikes target with cruise-missile accuracy while pulling the trigger with a blindfold on. Certainly his Doral comments had not been communicated to his running mate, Governor Mike Pence, who on Wednesday said Russia should be made to pay “the consequences” if its involvement in the DNC hack is proved.
We also know by now Mr Trump’s supporters are rarely unsettled by even his most extreme statements. He called for a total ban on Muslims entering the US last December and his numbers climbed. But those same supporters are also dyed in the red, white and blue. Will they really find his invitation to Russia - Russia! - deliberately to destabilise the democratic institutions of their own country as something that is just another giggle? Perhaps they will.
But Mr Trump should know this. At some point he will make his hill of garbage so high that instead of giving him a road to the highest office in the land it will bury him. And then he will not win in November or even come close to winning. He will be utterly destroyed by Ms Clinton and by a country that will have awoken to the terrifying and ridiculous threat that he really is.
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