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Commentary: What Is Wrong With Donald Trump?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. on Tuesday. (Chuck Burton/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. on Tuesday. (Chuck Burton/AP)
This article is more than 3 years old.

Donald Trump can seem simple-minded when he makes a gratuitous insult, suggests a conspiracy theory or goes off on a nonsensical tangent when asked about a complex issue. However, while it is true that he is widely considered a boastful, bigoted buffoon, it must be admitted that he has inspired many people to take up amateur psychoanalysis.

They look up definitions for words like narcissism, sociopath and racism. And they often end their studies by asking a very profound question: What the hell is wrong with that guy?

Trump’s latest assault on sense and sensibilities was his trying to exploit the mass shooting in Orlando. GOP officials had reportedly asked him to remain silent after the news broke. But he couldn’t resist. His told-you-so tweets, speech and interviews were so demagogic -- with so many falsehoods and smears -- Republican officials were appalled by his performance. He again provoked them to wonder: What is wrong with this guy?

Party elders are no less befuddled than ordinary voters. They couldn’t believe that a candidate who had a chance to win the ultimate public office couldn’t control himself. They wondered: “Can’t we get this 69-year-old to act like an adult?” Act is the key word. Many GOP “leaders” who endorsed him apparently wanted him to hide his prejudices, change his demeanor and pretend to be “presidential.” Now they are alarmed by his decline in recent polls, realizing that it might cost the GOP its majority in the U.S. Senate — not to mention the party’s reputation.

Even when Trump demonstrated that he didn’t have the knowledge, temperament or character to be presidential — like his bigoted attacks on the federal judge in his Trump “University” case — party “leaders” expressed the hope that he could change. But in private conversation, the insiders would ask each other the same question that ordinary voters ponder: “What is wrong with him?”

There are many theories for why The Donald can’t shut his mouth or stop tweeting, i.e., why he keeps proving that he doesn’t have the restraint, filter or smarts of an able presidential candidate, let alone a wise commander-in-chief.

Here are some of those theories:

Subconsciously, Trump Wants To Lose -- Carl Cannon, editor of Real Clear Politics, wrote a commentary making the case that Trump’s self-destructive words and actions indicate that he is looking for a way out -- that he secretly realizes he’s not up to the job and wants to return to the more enjoyable lifestyle of being a businessman and reality TV star.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder -- An article in Psychology Today says that many psychologists believe The Donald is an extreme narcissist. “He’s so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops, because there’s no better example of his characteristics,” said clinical psychologist George Simon, who conducts lectures and seminars on manipulative behavior. “Otherwise, I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He’s like a dream come true.”

Wannabe Dictator -- Some think that Trump talks like a nationalist demagogue, because he aspires to be a dictator. Robert Kagan, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote a commentary in the Washington Post entitled, “This is how fascism comes to America." He said, “Trump himself is simply and quite literally an egomaniac. But the phenomenon he has created and now leads has become something larger than him, and something far more dangerous.”

Spoiled Rich Kid -- Some think Trump is thin-skinned, insecure and acts like a bully, because he was raised as a pampered, insulated rich kid. Bill Maher, a comedian with a proud left-wing bias, blames the self-esteem movement for Trump’s behavior. “Every time a parent takes the kid’s side over the teacher’s, or asks a child where they want to go to dinner or doesn’t say be quiet when adults are talking, you are creating the Donald Trumps of tomorrow,” said Maher.

Greedy -- Some suspect that Trump got into the race to bolster his brand and thus profit off his enhanced fame. It may seem odd to think that a multi-billionaire (though his hidden tax returns may reveal he’s not as wealthy as he claims) is in this for financial gain. However, he did tweet recently that, if elected president, he’d reopen Trump “University." And if he loses, it does seem like he would be able to capitalize on the loyalty of his fanatical fan base in sales and marketing.

Sycophantic Campaign Staff -- In a recent conference call, Trump told his surrogates to ignore missives from his staff “because you guys are getting sometimes stupid information from people that aren’t so smart." They might not be smart, but they are submissive to their employer’s will. They don’t want to be scolded or demoted by Trump. However, when a candidate is prone to going off-script and saying foolish things, someone on the staff has to be able to criticize him to his face, rather than humor him. No one is reportedly playing that role in his campaign. Instead they continue to follow the motto, “Let Mr. Trump be Mr. Trump.”

Thinks He’s In A Reality TV Show — Trump enjoyed his many years as the TV reality star in “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice.” What he must have enjoyed most about it was the way that the producer, director and editors would only show him at his best. They must have edited out any moments when he acted too offensive to play the role of a wise, good-hearted judge. That’s probably why he is so incensed when the media isn’t “fair” -- in other words, when they don’t portray him as the great man that he was depicted as in his reality TV show. So he has now banned the Washington Post from his campaign events, as he’s banned other media. They are not being “fair.” Or, as comedian Bill Maher might put it, they are interfering with his self-esteem.

Ken Burns, the historical documentary filmmaker, commented on the reality TV show we call the Trump presidential campaign, in his remarks at the Stanford University commencement: “I feel genuine sorrow for the understandably scared and — they feel — powerless people who have flocked to his campaign in the mistaken belief that — as often happens on TV — a wand can be waved and every complicated problem can be solved with the simplest of solutions. They can’t. It is a political Ponzi scheme. And asking this man to assume the highest office in the land would be like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747.”

Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst and a regular contributor to WBUR Politicker.

Todd Domke Twitter Republican Political Analyst
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.

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