At this point I think we can dismiss the theory that Trump’s post-election behavior is just kayfabe, that it’s all nothing but a fundraising ploy, that he doesn’t really mean any of it, and so forth (If you can cast your memory back that far to the long-ago time known as “November” you may recall such claims were pretty much the conventional wisdom among the Savvy).
Anybody who has listened to Trump more than hour-long [!] phone call with the Georgia SOS will recognize the voice of a desperate man, who is employing lawyers, guns, and money in every way he can possibly think of to hold onto an office that he will no longer have any legal basis for holding onto two weeks from Wednesday.
Keep in mind that the odds that Trump hasn’t had lots of similar conversations with other state officials that we just haven’t heard about yet can be estimated as zero. Here’s his official schedule for today, which reads like it was translated from some Slavic language by someone with a less than perfectly confident command of English:
President Trump will work from early in the morning until late in the evening. He will make many calls and have many meetings.
The question of the moment is, why is he doing this?
(1) Raging narcissism. To a malignant narcissist like Trump, the public humiliation of being a “loser” is worse than death. Right before the election, Jane Mayer interviewed among other people Mary Trump:
She described the “narcissistic injury” that Trump will suffer if he is rejected at the polls. Within the Trump family, she said, “losing was a death sentence—literally and figuratively.” Her father, Fred Trump, Jr., the President’s older brother, “was essentially destroyed” by her grandfather’s judgment that Fred was not “a winner.” (Fred died in 1981, of complications from alcoholism.) As the President ponders potential political defeat, she believes, he is “a terrified little boy.”
I believe it’s very difficult for ordinary people to grasp the mental world of people who are as obsessed with dominance and hierarchy as Trump so clearly is. “Losing” is for someone like Trump a kind of psychological Room 101: It’s the very worst thing in the world, and almost literally unendurable. (I’m rooting for literally but not getting my hopes up).
(2) Addiction to the attention and adulation that comes with being a cult leader who also holds the most powerful political office in the world. For a narcissist like Trump, the last four years have turned him into the rat who keeps hitting the lever that delivers cocaine, because the supply is unlimited, and the addiction is total. On some level Trump probably grasps that when he’s no longer president, a lot of people are going to have the option of ignoring him, to an extent that they simply don’t right now. This is also a fate worse than death for the world’s ultimate hollow man.
(3) Legal jeopardy. While the first two factors are surely significant, this is in my view probably the biggest reason why Trump continues to fight against apparently certain defeat like a cornered rat. Try to imagine what Trump himself knows is going to become or at least may become public about his behavior as president when he’s no longer president. He can’t pardon himself for state crimes, and Mayer’s story argues that New York at least is dead serious about prosecuting Trump for various and sundry financial crimes.
Although the prospect of Trump ending up on Riker’s Island may seem fantastical at the moment, keep in mind that at bottom Trump is a terrified little boy, who is afraid that everyone is going to find out the truth about him, which of course is that he’s really a loser after all, in the game of life. Any halfway competent criminal lawyer, or as Jesse Pinkman would say criminal lawyer, would have to advise Trump that no, it’s not possible to assure him that he won’t go to prison, given that Trump has spent the last four years committing enormous numbers of crimes, most of which we still know nothing about (This is the safest bet this side of predicting that Alabama will win some football games next fall).
All this is driving Trump crazy, to the extent he hadn’t already arrived at that destination, and it would be a big mistake to underestimate exactly what he might do in the next 15 days to try to escape the trap that he’s spent his whole life maneuvering himself into. (What he’ll do after that is anybody’s guess, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up fleeing the jurisdiction in the nouveau riche equivalent of tan Ciera).
We’ve been in a classic abusive relationship with this guy for four years now, and the moment of exit from the relationship is always the most dangerous for everyone in the abuser’s orbit. And again, the question our many institutionalists, Constitution-worshipers, and believers in various sorts of guardrails need to ask themselves remains the one that they should have been asking themselves every day for the last four years: If the rule you followed has led you to this, of what use was the rule?