Wednesday, June 29, 2016

This would also be perhaps the first time a question starting with "how does it feel" will produce an interesting answer

As we've observed before, a handful of journalists and pundits have actually managed not only to maintain but to enhance their reputations through the recent primary. Some names that come to mind are Chait, Krugman, Ornstein & Mann and perhaps most of all, Josh Marshall. Over the past year, I don't think anyone has been better at what Orwell would call seeing one's noise in front of one's face than TPM's founder.

In an earlier post, we addressed the unique role that emotional gratification has played in the Trump campaign and speculated on how the candidate might react to the plummeting levels of fun. In a recent post, Marshall goes a step further, from not-having-a-good-time to “psychic disembowelment.”
If you are campaigning on the fact that you're a winner but you're losing, the premise of your campaign just falls apart.

Just as polls created a positive feedback loop for Trump in the primaries, where they seemed to confirm that no transgression or conventional misstep could hurt him, he is now entering a negative feedback loop with the same polls. The perception of losing amplifies every misstep. It makes him lose more both because the premise of the campaign starts to collapse in on itself but, relatedly, the brittle edifice of a narcissistic ego starts to come under an insuperable strain.

Put simply, he gets more erratic.

I suspect that in a couple months this will become the sum of most of the Democrats attacks on Trump both because it undermines the central premise of his campaign ("I always win; and I can make you win too.") but also because these attacks cut visibly cut Trump so deeply, triggering a sort of psychic disembowelment. You can see this in the increasingly irritated and thin-skinned responses to criticism or any references to his flagging campaign efforts.


At some point in the not distant future, some reporter - probably a not altogether pleasant one - will ask Trump: "How does it feel to be losing so badly? Just on a personal level? Does it hurt? Do regret getting into this?" It won't be pretty because Trump's ego is fragile. From there I suspect you'll see it cropping up in campaign attacks from every direction.

As mentioned before, under normal circumstances, psychoanalyzing presidential candidates is almost always a waste of time, but these are clearly special times. Addressing Trump's motives and emotional problems is not only productive; it's practically unavoidable.


  1. I suppose it is fine to take a short breather and enjoy Trump's current predicament in the polls. But there is far too much at stake in this election, more, I would say, than any other in my lifetime, to let our guard down. November is still a long time away and many things can happen between now and then. Fortunately, Clinton is not resting on her primary laurels and is campaigning vigorously. The rest of us should follow that lead.

    Any false sense of security could unleash disaster. It isn't over until it's over. Though the current polls are encouraging, we must always remember that initially, few people thought Trump could get the GOP nomination, and few thought that Leave would win in England.

  2. “there is far too much at stake in this election, more, I would say, than any other in my lifetime”

    But that was true the moment they announced the line-up for the first debate. Everyone on the main stage would have been a disaster. Twenty years ago, the GOP was still nominating broadly acceptable candidates and letting them run to the center in the general. Over the past decade, they picked broadly acceptable candidates but made them abandon their moderate views. Now we've reached the point where Jeb (who promised to double down on all of his brother's disastrous policies) was the closest we got to a reasonable centrist.

    In many ways, the thought of a Walker administration still frightens me more than that of a Trump administration, and if Walker had gotten the nomination, he'd probably have more money and be getting better press than Hillary at this point. In Krugman's words, Trump has been a “clarifying shock,” forcing journalists and public figures to finally acknowledge some long obvious truths about 21st Century politics.

    1. What you say is true in terms of potential policy implications. But that is only part of the picture. In fact, policy considerations are, for me, the least important concern about a Trump administration.

      None of the other Republican contenders was a charismatic demagogue. Trump's supporters include a core of people who harbor violent tendencies towards outgroups, and Trump empowers these supporters by encouraging and excusing them when they act on those impulses. None of the other candidates have a large number of violent followers, and none of them encouraged their supporters to be violent.

      A Trump victory in November would greatly empower his most violent supporters, legitimizing them. Just as after the Brexit vote we see a spike in hate crimes in England, I fear a Trump presidency would be accompanied by a wave of violence directed at the persons and homes and business of people perceived to be Muslims or Mexicans. The US would have its very own brown shirts, encouraged by the president himself. American Kristallnacht becomes a distinct possibility. That cannot be said of any of the other contenders.