God knows it’s too early for post-mortems, but it’s looking more and more like Trump was hoist by his own petard in pressing so hard all summer on Hillary Clinton’s supposed debilities and corruption.
Once the public got the chance to see the two of them standing side-by-side at the debate, it became pretty clear to everyone who hadn’t made up their minds already (mainstream Republicans, disappointed Bernie-ites, skeptical Democrats) that she had more stamina and steeliness than he did. And then, after his Alicia Machado meltdown opened the door to the Access Hollywood tape, the groping accusations, and the Howard Stern interviews; after the Washington Post’s and New York Times’s tax and foundation revelations suggested that he was something less than the titan of business and philanthropy that he’d said he was, Hillary’s e mails began to seem less noisome than his own grossness, fatuity, and greed. I’m not talking about his base, of course — but even if they did continue to fill up stadiums, there were never enough of them to get him elected in the general. He had to court a whole new constituency and instead he alienated it.
Worse still, I think, is his self-pity as the clock ticks down–the lashing out, the narcissistic self-involvement, the threats to sue his accusers and lock up Hillary Clinton once and for all. This is when he should be assuring his troops that he will never, ever surrender–that the movement that they have built together is too important. He should be making it all about them and he seems constitutionally unable to think about anyone but himself. It was incredibly telling, I think, that he began his answer to the Supreme Court question at the third debate by recalling the very bad things Ruth Bader Ginsburg had said about him, or that he whined about the nasty tone of the debate at the Al Smith dinner and how his rich friends are deserting him. Pretty soon he’s going to be saying that being a billionaire is more fun than being president anyway, which can’t but feel like a betrayal if you’d invested as many of your hopes in him as his followers have.
Decades ago, when THE ART OF THE DEAL was high atop the bestseller list, I can remember hearing Trump brag to some fawning interviewer that his board game was the bestselling board game of all time. It was such a trivial bit of self-aggrandizement. The presidency is important — it comes with awesome powers, responsibilities, and opportunities — but being president always seemed like an afterthought to him. It was all about winning, and now that the path to victory is looking as elusive as it is, he’s sweeping the pieces off the board and taking it home. Sad!