Nobody could help noticing that Steve Bannon’s takeover of the Trump campaign did impart a significant degree of discipline on the campaign and Trump himself. Zero to ten mph in 20 seconds, sure. But improvement is improvement. What we should note, however, is how little control the campaign has over Trump (let alone how little control Trump has over himself) when he is forced to operate without a teleprompter and when his ego is put under any form of assault or even pressure. As many have already noted, Clinton’s mention of Alicia Machado’s treatment at Trump’s hands was no random, momentary decision. They’d seen Curiel; they’d seen Khan. She and her team know how Trump’s lack of empathy, self-awareness and narcissism makes him ripe for these days’ or weeks’ long self-destructive tirades.
They laid the trap and he walked right into it.
Anyone with the most basic communications experience or simply a conscience knows there’s a simple and solitary way to deal with something like this: “We quarreled years ago. I’m sorry we did. That’s a long time ago. I wish her the best.” Done and done.
But Trump can’t do that because Trump can never admit he was wrong. In fact, it’s more than an inability to admit error he has an affirmative need to be right and for everyone to know it. That’s why, to the joy of Democrats, he’s now on his third day of trashing Machado and defending his own actions, even though the story almost certainly would have died out without him doing so.
By Wednesday night, in his appearance on O’Reilly, he started the show off with a lengthy monologue attacking Machado. Far from mistreating her, he said, he’d saved her job; he’d given her the opportunity to lose weight (yes, this is a fair characterization of his words). And this was the thanks he got!
Think I’m exaggerating? Here are his words.
She did not do well. She had a lot of difficulty. And, you know, they wanted to fire her. The company itself wanted to fire her. I saved her job … I saved her job because I said that’s going to — I did that with a number of young ladies. The staff itself. Look what happened. Look what I get out of it. I get nothing. A lot of things are coming out about her … I saved her job because they wanted to fire her for putting on so much weight it is a beauty contest … I saved her job because they wanted to fire her for putting on so much weight. It is a beauty contest … But, again, I helped somebody and this is what you get for helping somebody.
Just so we’re clear. These words aren’t from a 20 year old video tape. These are from last night on Fox News, two days after the debate.
The words amount to what we might term ‘stand-up narcissism’, a demonstration of a personality defect so profound and total that it becomes comedic in a way that makes a decent run at transcending its own awfulness. His self-regard and conscienceless-ness is so total that it is beyond him to realize that his “a good deed never goes unpunished” lament doesn’t make him look like a chauvinist asshole so much as a clownish version of a chauvinist asshole. It so perfectly mirrors Trump’s self-immolation with the Khans that it’s hard to believe the Clinton staffers who planned this could have imagined it would work so well.
This morning NBC News got a leaked version of the ‘talking points’ the Trump campaign is giving surrogates discussing Alicia Machado. They almost perfectly mirror Trump’s stages of denial dealing with the Khans. Machado is “vicious”, “desperate”, her charges are “baseless and unsubstantiated”, Clinton is a fake feminist, and what about Monica? Any halfway competent campaign would realize the ‘talking points’ on this issue are quite simple: Don’t talk about it! The ‘charges’ against Trump are nothing more than things he said on video. There are no charges. Just quotes. There is nothing in dispute. It’s just showing people what he said.
But ‘not talking about it’ assumes, actually requires you can get Trump to stop talking about it – especially, stop talking about how overweight she was or what a stand up guy he was for trying to get her to lose weight.
But he can’t. Why? Because he can’t be wrong. Not just ‘can’t be wrong’ but ‘has to be right’. Sounds like the same thing but it’s not. The latter quality forces him to keep talking and keep litigating a case he can’t possibility win.
Now he’s angry at campaign allies and evens staff for saying he didn’t do well in the debate. None of us like criticism. Some of us ‘can’t take criticism’. But Trump can’t take criticism at an entirely different level.
The key obstacle to Trump’s campaign are women. White women, particularly married white women are the most up-for-grabs demographic group in this election. Non-whites are overwhelmingly opposed to Trump. White men without college degrees are overwhelmingly for him. White women in the suburbs, who often but not always vote Republican, are the key group he needs. And he’s spent days spouting toxic verbal sewage which could not be designed more effectively to alienate this group. Why? Because of his narcissism and because he’s a seventy year old man with children and grandchildren who lacks measure of the self-control most people learn before they’re twelve.