We’ve seen a lot of Trump meltdowns. But I’m not sure we’ve seen one quite like this one with Alicia Machado. We had a recent preview with what I believe was his reaction to being gently rebuked by Pastor Faith Green Timmons of Flint, Michigan. But here we appear to have a special confluence of events. Trump becomes unhinged whenever he is challenged or insulted or injured by someone he perceives as beneath him in the gender or racial hierarchy. The list is almost endless: Hillary Clinton, Alicia Machado, Obama, the Khans, Judge Curiel. Trump is a bully who lives in a zero sum psychic economy of dominance. There are dominators and the dominated. That operates with white men too, as we saw in the Republican primaries. But when the injury comes from someone he believes is beneath him, there is a special intensity and charge. Taking down a Bush or a Cruz, Trump was vicious and dominating but seemingly in control. He wielded his aggressive bullying as a weapon. There’s aggression but not rage. In these other cases, he’s clearly not in control. It overcomes him.
Pastor Timmons tells Trump he was not invited to give a “political speech.”
Trump hit a brick wall in Monday night’s debate. He didn’t prepare. It took Hillary Clinton, a woman he’d spent weeks calling frail and weak, only 15 or 20 minutes to knock him off stride and reduce him to a defensive posture for the rest of the debate. In boxing terms, she had him on the ropes in under half an hour and landed punches at will for the next hour. He attacked, interrupted, brought up various attack lines. But he was fundamentally reacting to her throughout. She dominated him in front of more than 80 million people. His inability to contain or damage her kept him angry and unfocused, flailing through the encounter.
After this, he denied anything had gone wrong in the debate, insisting that he’d won. This would be at least partly expected for any campaign but this was more wounded pride than spin. Then he got angry at staffers and supporters who said he’d underperformed. Then he spent three days calling a woman fat and saying he’d gotten no thanks for giving her the ‘opportunity’ to stop being fat.
Then he was up just after 5 am this morning ranting at Machado on twitter, calling her “disgusting”, talking about a seemingly non-existent “sex tape.” Even though there’s no evidence there’s any ‘sex tape’ and I assume there’s not, I suspect we’ll learn that someone told Trump something or showed him something that made him think there was or might be. I don’t think the timing is accidental. I suspect he felt he had something new, game-changing and punishing. He could not wait. The words in the flurry of early morning tweets pulses with a rage that goes beyond even what Trump’s usually capable of.
“Hillary floated her as an ‘angel’ without checking her past” … Machado was presented as a “paragon of virtue” but is actually “disgusting.” The contrast of purported purity and sexual shame is white hot. But this isn’t prudery. The celebrity world of models, sex tapes, parties and casual sex is one Trump loves and boasts about. This is rage channeled through sexual degradation.
Today Machado responded on Instagram …
For Trump, Machado must be like a terrifying nightmare: a strong, beautiful Latina, draped in an American flag, who is intent on hurting him but who he is incapable of injuring.
As of this morning polls already showed that the debate and its immediate fallout had moved public opinion decisively in Clinton’s favor, though of course the tide has turned before. The sum of all these facts – the debate defeat, the fight with Machado, the faltering polls – seem to be propelling Trump into a new rage spiral, rooted in narcissistic injuries, seemingly catalyzing itself, reinforcing itself in spiraling cycles of rage and self-injury. As we stumble and march toward election day, the pressure on everyone grows. But the effects on Trump seem greater and the assaults are more compressed in time. The exposure is greater. I’m curious whether he can right himself before his next encounter with Clinton.