Now that so many people are trying to read the mind of the Trump one finds it difficult to resist the temptation. Naturally, I have no interest in psychoanalyzing the Donald or looking into his childhood. I prefer to do as I have done, to understand his idiosyncratic presidential campaign in a social and political context..
At best, the campaign is idiosyncratic. At worst, Trump is preparing himself for a monumental loss. One trusts that those of you who had convinced yourselves that Trump was the biggest winner are taking note and revising your thinking.
Of course, Trump could always mount a monstrously effective comeback. And the American public could finally wake up to the perfidy of the Clintons. Yet, as the summer drags on, it seems less and less likely.
In raising the psycho issue Damon Linker notes that Trump is not just another politician:
Where the most gaffe-prone big-league politician might go off the rails once every week or so, Trump does it several times every week, and sometimes several times every day. And where the most gaffe-prone big-league politicians quickly take back their verbal flubs, clarify, and apologize, hoping to move on before inflicting maximal political damage on themselves, Trump invariably doubles down, needlessly dragging out the controversies for endless days.
Of course, Trump prides himself on not being a politician. His followers like it that he is not a politician. He draws massive crowds to his rallies. He must believe somewhere that the tactic is working for him. And yet, if he believes that beating sixteen candidates, most of whom have no business running for the presidency, is harder than beating one well organized candidate, no matter how incompetent or corrupt, he’s got another think coming.
Trump has gotten to this point by being outrageous. And yet, people used to be angered by Trump’s outrageous statements. And, anger worked well for him. Right now they are finding him ridiculous, and ridicule rarely works for anyone.
Linker believes that Trump wants to lose the election. Since I renounced armchair psychologizing, I will reject that hypothesis. One might say that Trump is happy with his life and that the life he would return to is far better than the one he would have in Washington. Thus, that he is not afraid of losing. Psychologically speaking, there is a big difference between wanting to lose and preparing yourself to lose.
I believe the latter is closer to the truth.
Linker also suggests that Trump wants to be able to blame someone else for the loss. Thus he suggested that the election might be rigged. In truth, American elections have occasionally been rigged. Take a look back at Illinois in 1960. And no one would put it past the Clintons if they or their henchmen were trying to see how they could rig the election.
And yet, rigging an election works best if the vote is very close. If the vote is a blowout, there is very little you can do.
As for the blame game, Trump has succeeded in alienating large numbers of loyal Republican voters. And he seems to be damaging the prospects of some Republican senators. Which is not winning him much support from establishment politicians. To be perfectly cynical, if they see him as a winner they will support him. If they see him as a loser, they will run for the lifeboats.
If his antics do not play in the general election the fault lies with the candidate and not with those who refused to support him. Besides, someone who never apologizes will always have to blame someone else.
Let’s assume that Trump does not want to lose, but that he could accept losing. Linker’s remarks are still germane:
Trump wants to lose, because he feels he's in over his head, because he thinks the job would be too much work, or perhaps because his ultimate aim is to prepare for a post-election launch of a new right-wing cable network to compete with Fox News.
Surely, Trump is smart enough to understand that he would be in over his head. Barack Obama has been in over his head and is not smart enough to know it. And Trump must understand that the job would require an enormous amount of work… even if he allows Mike Pence to run the government and the country. Obama did not know it and has made a hash of his presidency. Trump must also know that the White House and the world stage is an alien environment, inhabited by people who know the game and play the game far better than he does. If you grant him enough credit, you see that he must understand this better than anyone else.
Trump seems not to know how to take advice. He made a mess of his endorsement of the Speaker of the House, ending up looking like a puppet who was begrudgingly saying what someone—Reince Priebus—had told him that he had to say.
Trump does not know how to take advice, but does not know enough to trust his own gut. Of course, when you do not take advice, on the grounds that you know better and that you understand the American people better than anyone else, you will have a great deal of difficulty blaming other people.
For my part I suspect that Trump himself would be gracious in defeat, chastened but proud of having run a campaign his way. I believe that Trump’s supporters will not be very gracious and that they will lash out at the Republican establishment and anyone who did not give Trump his wholehearted support.
Linker says this:
Trump will do absolutely anything to avoid taking the blame for own failures, even (and perhaps especially) when his own actions rightly deserve the blame. And he couldn't care less about the civically ruinous consequences.
The Republican nominee is exceedingly likely to lose in November, but he won't be the only one dragged down by the defeat. All of us have now been reduced to playing bit parts in Donald Trump's personal psychodrama.
Again, since I swore I was not going to psychoanalyze the candidate I will not fall into the trap of considering the Trump candidacy a personal psychodrama. In truth, the Trump candidacy came about at a specific historical moment, a moment where our current president has spent nearly eight years talking down the country, diminishing it in the eyes of the world, reducing America’s psychological capital. The damage Obama has inflicted on the nation and the world is not very obvious, especially when the stock market keeps going up, but people know in their hearts that something has gone radically wrong. Trump might not have been the best antidote, but he was a product of the calamity called the Age of Obama.
And besides, as Yogi Berra said, it ain’t over till it’s over. For all we know, the Clinton campaign could implode. The stories about Hillary’s ill health could turn out to be true. Hillary could have a coughing fit at the first presidential debate. The Clinton corruption might finally gain some traction. And Trump might shine at the debates.
If this were a market, the rising tide of pessimism about the Trump candidacy would be a contrary indicator: it would say that you should buy a few shares in Trump… just in case.