As I mentioned in my earlier post, I was in meetings in Washington for most of the day. So I checked my iPhone here and there and got a few minutes poking around on my laptop. But I saw most of the day only at a distance – enough to see that the full conflagration had finally broken out but not enough to see the details.
It’s hard to know quite what to say because in some ways this is the most obvious thing in the world. We’ve known all along that something like this could happen, indeed that it was likely to happen. As long as Trump seemed likely to win or to have a plausible chance to win, most everyone in the GOP would be happy and go along. The fact that they were happy is profoundly troubling. But that’s another story. As long as Trump seemed likely to lose without making too much of a mess that was something the party machinery could tolerate. But when things started to go badly things were likely to go bad fast – even more if something extremely toxic was revealed about Trump.
To say that Trump can’t lose gracefully or graciously in the grandest of understatements. He’s driven by a need to dominate – not to be the best but to be recognized as the best, the richest, the smartest, the strongest. This also means needing to win always. All of this means he gets angry quickly and lashes out in the face of sleights.
Being shamed by nearly every Republican in the country is a profound ego injury. Looking at the prospect of a shattering electoral defeat is another. That has to be channeled somewhere and it looks like it’s going to be channeled against the GOP. Trump needs someone to blame. He’s already blamed news networks, blacks, debate moderators, the Khans, Alicia Machado, Judge Curiel. But Paul Ryan and the GOP now seem like the target of his most intense rage.
Will that rage settle as the intensity of the final weeks builds and the prospect of defeat gets closer? I would think not.
Remember, Trump is a bully. Bullies seek out people they can hurt. Trump has done everything he possibly can to hurt Hillary Clinton. But he doesn’t seem to be able to do so. The chance to do the one thing that would truly hurt her – defeating her in the general election – looks to be slipping beyond his grasp. That is almost certainly the root of his increasingly open threats to jail and punish her. But there is someone else he can hurt profoundly, even as he falls behind in the general election: the Republican party. All the better since they are his best argument to justify his defeat as a betrayal rather than a personal failure.
Think of your own experience. Bullies never pick out the strongest person to abuse. That defies the definition of a bully. Bullies seek out the weak. At the moment, the institutional GOP and its key leaders are exceptionally weak and vulnerable, even helpless. The best example: even as he continues to attack them, threaten a cataclysmic election outcome, they cannot even withdraw their endorsements. One senator who dropped him the day after the ‘grab’ tape leaked took him back today. Like an abuser who takes out his personal failures and frustrations and rages on his wife and his children, Paul Ryan and the GOP are now alone in the house with Donald Trump. He is angry and the prospect of defeat will no doubt make him angrier. In Trump’s world of displacement, abuse and vengeance turning against the GOP is the most logical thing in the world.