Given Donald Trump’s performance over the past 40 years, and especially with regard to this election cycle, there are two possibilities: (1) Trump is a Democratic mole helping to destroy the GOP, hand the election to Clinton and cement several decades of single-party rule; or (2) Trump is unable to stop himself from doing things that self-sabotage his campaign, despite the desire not to do them.
We at The Resurgent have explored option (1) in depth (here, here, here, and here), and we’ve also spilled tens of thousands of words about the character of Trump. But I’ve recently purchased the latest tell-all book about the enigma wrapped in a mystery that is the billionaire not-the-frontrunner candidate.
“Trump Revealed” was written by Washington Post reporters Marc Fisher and Michael Kranish. This is not Kranish’s first rodeo: He previously co-wrote “The Real Romney” in 2012, and, as a Boston Globe reporter, a non-fiction historical piece on Thomas Jefferson. While not the first book claiming to show us the “real” Trump, this one was made with The Donald’s full cooperation and significant access, during the campaign itself. That makes it quite unique.
But this is not a book review. The book only gives proof to the conclusion that the GOP candidate for president has unwelcome compulsions.
Obviously, Trump isn’t the only presidential aspirant who has had compulsions (look at Bill Clinton, or Richard Nixon). But Trump’s compulsions are actually self-defeating and will cost him the White House. Leave aside the fact that should Trump win, the same compulsions will render him unfit to serve, in my formally uneducated opinion.
I don’t need to be formally educated to see it, though. Neither does anyone else.
Trump is compelled to be the center of attention in all things. He’s not stupid. He’s not without personal charm, manners, and powers of observation. Trump isn’t a half-bad negotiator or strategist. But he is a compulsive showman, and that’s his downfall.
In the past, if you wanted to get Trump’s attention, come up with a plan that will put his name on some luxury good or service, priced just high enough to make it within reach of average people, but not too high. Vodka, real estate training, steaks, wine, shirts, ties–all of these have attracted Trump because he loves having his name on things.
Buildings, hotels, casinos, airplanes, boats, public parks, resorts–all named after Trump. He can’t help himself. It’s a compulsion. Trump supporters look at it as “brand building.” But that’s not true. A brand-builder wouldn’t put their brand at stake for sketchy enterprises run by sketchy people with sketchy business plans. Trump does, over and over again.
And now, as a presidential candidate, the compulsion is beyond any hope of resistance.
“Cover of Time, three times in four months,” he said. “No one ever before. It’s amazing.” There he was on the New York Times Magazine, and on Esquire and on Rolling Stone and on and on, the man who was about to be nominated as the Republican candidate for president, his success (or his notoriety) emblazoned on magazine after magazine. He was very much impressed.
Being out of the news cycle, or not the lead story, for more than 24 hours is impossible for Trump. He cannot resist saying or doing something to make people notice. It’s an irresistible compulsion, like Bill Clinton and interns, or Anthony Weiner and his particular problem.
It doesn’t matter if Hillary Clinton has used her family foundation as a personal government influence-for-cash machine, or if Clinton Foundation employees felt like they were government employees. Trump can’t let the press run with that story, because he didn’t break it, and it’s not about him.
Trump could not stand on stage in front of the press with Mexican President Nieto and not answer questions. He just can’t do it.
None of us need to be psychologists or psychiatrists to see this is a compulsion. We’ve all had friends or family members (or ourselves) with these kinds of problems. Self-destructive people do self-destructive things despite the fact that they know it’s bad, because they can’t help themselves. Trump himself saw it with his brother Fred.
Hillary’s campaign strategy is to run out the clock. She’s known Donald for decades. She knows how he is and that he can’t resist being the center of attention. Even if a “smoking gun” email from Hillary or one of her advisers surfaced saying “We will just keep this on the private email server because we know it’s illegal to give intelligence to foreign actors in return for Clinton Foundation donations,” she would let Trump do something more outrageous to steal the headline.
There’s a chance that Trump gets better, and that some sort of mythical new information comes out of the emails,” said Mo Elleithee, director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and a veteran of Clinton’s 2008 campaign. “But in the absence of that, the Clinton people seem to be content with keeping their heads down, letting her deliver her positive case and allowing Trump to continue to cloud the national conversation with his own unforced errors.”
There’s no chance “Trump gets better” from his compulsion in the next 60 days. The RNC has tried interventions. They’ve tried reasoning with him. His family, friends (such as he has–Trump, by his own admission, has no close friends), and advisers have attempted to change his behavior. Trump honestly wants to–I think he wants to win–but he can’t do it.
One solution would be for Trump to arrange his own kidnapping and watch the story unfold from a windowless room with no outbound Internet access. Obviously, that can’t happen.
The Trump campaign is a train wreck because it’s run by a man who cannot stop himself from saying or doing anything to put himself in the limelight. It’s likely the reason Paul Manafort quit. It’s likely the reason Steve Bannon, a reputed control freak and hatchet man, is cradling his head in his hands and eating Excedrin by the handful.
Even if enough voters could warm up to some of Trump’s policies, and his messaging, dealmaking, and analysis skills, the man’s own compulsions will sink him. Trump wants to win, and he wants it to be the most compelling story in the history of American politics (if not the world).
Trump is okay with being this far behind, because he honestly thinks he can catch up and beat Clinton. But he can’t because he will not be able to resist his compulsion for attention. I used to dislike Trump, but now I must admit I pity him.
Having so much potential, and wasting it through self-sabotage is just tragic.