Once again we have a day that knocks into pieces everything we think is within the realm of the possibly normal or conceivable in our politics. Republicans half cut Trump loose over the weekend, only to see a rapid and brutal backlash from Trump’s supporters who make up the bulk of the base of the Republican party. That they didn’t anticipate this is a measure of how much, at this late date, they still don’t quite grasp the nature of the person they are dealing with or the moment they are operating in. By Monday, the few Republicans who had explicitly jumped ship were starting to jump back on the ship. Now over the course of a single evening we have as many as a dozen new accusers – women from various walks of life, different parts of the country, different historical eras. By any remotely reasonable political, moral logic, Trump’s whole party would now desert him en masse. But it’s less than four weeks before the election. And the process of endorsing, de-endorsing, re-endorsing and more has become too much of a dark comedy to go through yet again. As I noted earlier this week, Trump is now at war with Hillary, the media and the GOP. But the GOP is the only one of those three he’s in a position to hurt. And bullies prey on the weak.
It is difficult to keep track of, to comprehend the totality of what’s going on. And by that I mean not simply Trump’s being revealed as a serial predator on what’s looking like the scale, if not the MO, of a Bill Cosby. We know many such men exist. But it’s also the man who’s spent a year and a half demonizing and targeting various ethnic and racial groups, mainstreaming white supremacists and anti-Semitism. He’s also threatened to upend core geopolitical ties around the world, been revealed as a serial con artist, from high-flying cons involving hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars to the most penny ante seminar schemes targeting the desperate and vulnerable.
All of it of course comes back to a simple reality. This is the consequence of a major political party tethering itself and its fate to a deeply damaged psyche. Not just the entire party but the entire country is forced into the chaos and drama that might only exist in such a person’s head and for his family members and work associates. People with severe personality disorders create drama and chaos around them. They create more when placed under stress. This is one of the most basic and enduring facts of human experience. We’ve seen it play out with Trump. As we’ve discussed in recent weeks, everyone who crosses into Trump’s orbit, into his gravitational pull, gets damaged. No one gets out unhurt. What stands out about all these cases – the Christies, Giulianis, Priebuses – is that the damage is almost always self-inflicted. They give way to it willingly. They surrender their dignity and selves through an alchemy which is all but inscrutable. But the damage is always part of the time with Trump.
Think of Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Reince Priebus, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Paul Manafort. I could list dozens of others. It is impossible to think of any of these men and not see their stature reduced, their dignity in tatters and in some cases quite possibly their careers over. And these are the people who’ve tried to enlist with Trump or manage in his presence. It doesn’t get to the men and women he’s victimized. Of course, the ultimate victim is the Republican party and on a larger canvas the country itself. As I wrote Sunday night in reaction to the debate, one of the greatest damages is that we’ve all come to see Trump’s chaotic emotions, violence and tirades as perhaps half normal. I had a hard time divining whether his angry bluster and transgressive antics in the debate would have any effect because we’ve all become so used to it. Like family members living in the home of an abuser our sense of what is normal starts to get blunted and deformed under the weight of abuse. The whole country is damaged in a way that won’t soon lift under the best of circumstances.
[Be the first to get a copy of my new book on Trump and Trumpism out next month. Get an advance copy for free if you sign up for a TPM Prime annual membership before November 21st. Click here to sign up now.]