PoliticsWhat's Wrong With Donald Trump?
Three theories as to why Trump's gone so off the rails lately
What’s eating Donald Trump? It’s the question that’s been consuming the political world these last few weeks. After the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Trump was supposed to execute his long-awaited pivot to the general election. Instead, he’s doubled-down on the crazy—gratuitously (and repeatedly) insulting a Gold Star family,
predicting the election will be rigged, and seeming to call for the assassination of Hillary Clinton. (Oh, and he kinda sorta accused President Obama of founding ISIS.) All the while, he falls further and further behind Clinton in the polls.
Clearly, his battle plan isn't working. So what gives? Herewith, a few theories.
He’s mentally ill.
That’s what Michael Moore argues in this open letter to Ivanka Trump, begging her to conduct an “intervention” for her father. “I know I’ve called your dad ‘crazy’ before,” Moore writes Ivanka, “but I was speaking politically, not clinically. This has gone beyond ‘crazy.’” Moore, in his typically (and disingenuously) cloying way, maintains he’s writing this letter out of concern for Trump and our “beleaguered country.” But it’s actually as nasty a political cheap shot as the one that Thomas Eagleton’s detractors used against him back in 1972, when they convinced George McGovern to drop him as his running-mate because Eagleton had once undergone electroshock treatment for depression. There are so many ways to attack Trump; invoking the spectre of mental illness is below the belt.
He’s crazy…like a fox.
Earlier this year, as Trump marched through the Republican primaries, it was popular to think that he was rewriting the political rulebook. Now, some are hailing him for a similar (if more sinister) genius. Consider the reaction to his apparent call for violence against Clinton should she win in November. To some people, including MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, the fact that Trump made his remark in Wilmington, N.C., was not a coincidence. Wilmington, after all, was the site of an infamous, violent white supremacist coup in 1898 to overthrow the elected local government of black and white officials. Trump, it was theorized, was perhaps seeking to tap into that awful history to further his own vision for a violent overthrow of a government. But that’s giving Trump too much credit. It’s hard to believe that a man who doesn’t have a working knowledge of the Constitution would know enough American history to know about the Wilmington Race Riots. Indeed, it’s a good bet that if Trump knows anything about Wilmington, it’s that it’s Michael Jordan’s hometown—if he even knows that.
He’s filling dead air.
Trump is the rare politician who not only lacks an understanding of public policy; he lacks a standard stump speech. He is incapable of going out in front of a crowd and delivering a well-honed, mostly innocuous spiel. He likes to improvise and, with few facts at his disposal, his improvisations can go in problematic directions. The New Yorker’s Ben Wallace-Wells makes a shrewd—and, to me, convincing—point when he writes, “Trump has a dead-air problem. He spends so many hours speaking before audiences. But he has so little to say.” During the primaries, of course, Trump could eat up tons of airtime rhapsodizing about his impressive standing in the polls. These days, not so much. Instead, as Wallace-Wells notes, Trump must rely on the “content-generation system” of cable news which, more often than not right now, is covering Trump’s various gaffes. That creates a vicious feedback loop, in which Trump rehashes—and extends—his myriad mistakes. Want to understand why Trump seemingly can’t get out of his own way? It’s because he was nowhere else to go.
Jason Zengerle is GQ’s political correspondent