Letting Trump Be His Own Worst Enemy

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GUEST COMMENTARY - Part of Donald J. Trump’s public persona is to behave like a pouting tween. This trait was on display Tuesday night after the New Hampshire primary results were in, showing Trump getting 54% to Haley’s 43%—the results were closer than polls were predicted.

Haley preceded Trump with an address to her supporters and described her vote total as a strong finish. This enraged Trump who at his rally said, “Wow, she’s doing like a speech, like she won.” He continued: “Who the hell was this imposter that went up on the stage before and like claimed a victory? She did very poorly, actually.”

Vintage Trump. He always accuses people of exactly what he can be accurately charged with saying or doing, as partially reflected in the criminal and civil lawsuits against him. Demolishing any dignity that should be associated with a front-running presidential candidate, Trump went on degrading himself by mocking Haley’s dress, mumbling his usual mentions of her unspecified violations, and later, as the Washington Post reported, “threaded his feelings into several dozen increasingly frenetic messages on his personal social media site.”

Once again, it’s Trump being always about Trump. Trump’s most fervent MAGA supporters are “verbalists,” believing everything that pours from his foul, lying, vengeful, bigoted mouth and ignoring that his deeds as President allowed Big Business to screw people like them. Many suffered devastating health, safety and economic consequences because of Trump. Just recall his boastful bungling of the Covid-19 pandemic’s early weeks in the U.S.

Keep in mind that a majority of Trump voters are traditional, rock-ribbed Republicans who vote for the Party ticket no matter who the candidates are. They need no persuasion because Party affiliation overrides self-interest.

Defeating Trump by provoking Trump is not the Democratic Party’s strong suit, but it better become one of the tactics candidates and their surrogates embrace.

One way to expose Trump is to personalize criticisms of him the way he mostly inaccurately personalizes others, with accusations and nicknames. It’s giving a bully—who still gets his libels replayed verbatim on the mass media—a taste of his own medicine. Der Fuhrer Trump cannot stand being pejoratively nicknamed.

David Kamp’s writing in an opinion piece for the New York Times recounts that while writing for Spymagazine, the staff produced a Trump epithet that stuck, “short-fingered vulgarian.” Trump being thin-skinned, long before entering politics, “sent angry threatening letters to Spy, which only heightened our joy,” he added. A slew of accurate nicknames will enlarge Trump’s juvenile immolation because he can’t resist spending time to huff, puff and assail his perceived political tormentors.

Enough Republicans will see his serious instability and narcissism—that the campaign is all about him, not them— to not vote for Trump or stay home on election day. A ten percent loss of his voters would ensure his losing big, apart from other anti-Trump GOTV strategies highlighting what he did in the White House to the American people, regardless of their political labels.

Readers interested in a factual, readable elaboration of Trump’s misdeeds can read Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lawbreaking and Lies Betray All (2020) by Mark Green and me. Facts matter, like opposing increasing the federal minimum wage frozen by the GOP at $7.25 per hour, or pushing to take away health insurance from millions of American families, or eliminating health and safety protections for consumers, children and workers and on and on.

In the January 21, 2024, Sunday edition, the New York Times printed a lengthy feature by Sarah Longwell, publisher of the conservative news outlet The Bulwark, subtitled “What 17 of Trump’s ‘Best People’ Said About Him.” People, that, Trump praised and selected to operate at the highest level of his Administration.

There are people, the Times column noted, “…who worked closely with Mr. Trump—whom he trusted, who worked with him every day, who saw him in private when the cameras were off.”

A few excerpts: Retired four-star Marine Corps general, John Kelly, was Trump’s chief of staff for a year and a half. His take: “A person who admires autocrats and murderous dictators. A person that has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution and the rule of law.”

Mark Esper, Trump’s Secretary of Defense said: “I have a lot of concerns about Donald Trump. I have said that he’s a threat to democracy. I think the last year, certainly the last few months of Donald Trump’s presidency, will look like the first few months of the next one if that were to occur.”

William Barr, Trump’s Attorney General: “…[H]e is a consummate narcissist and he constantly engages in reckless conduct that puts his political followers at risk.… He will always put his own interest and gratifying his own ego ahead of everything else, including the country’s interest.… He’s like …a defiant 9-year-old kid, who’s always pushing the glass toward the edge of the table defying his parents to stop him from doing it.”

John Bolton: Trump’s national security adviser and a hawk declared, “By the time I left the White House, I was convinced he was not fit to be president. … I think it is a danger for the United States if he gets a second term.”

In his memoir, Bolton also wrote that “obstruction of justice was a way of life at the White House.”

It has been said that Trump is his own best promoter and also his own worst enemy. If the Democrats practice jujitsu on Trump, he’ll save them a lot of money, as he defeats himself. Savvy opponents can always count on Trump to bring out the worst in himself, against himself.

If this presidential election is going to turn on personal behavior, and less on policy records and agendas, count on Trump to make ever more Americans say to themselves: “I would never associate with a neighbor like Trump. It’s too scary to have him in the White House again.”

(Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate and the author of "The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future" (2012). His new book is, "Wrecking America: How Trump's Lies and Lawbreaking Betray All" (2020, co-authored with Mark Green).)