Storm clouds are gathering over former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, and they are not the meteorological kind.
They are signs of a self-inflicted injury, resulting from Trump’s narcissism and obsessive, compulsive refusal to talk about anything other than the injury done to him by the phantom fraud in the 2020 election. His narcissism is so deep that in utter disregard for the party he is supposed to be leading, he has even urged Republicans not to vote in 2022 or 2024, “if we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020.”
This destructive obsession is beginning to turn off even some of his longtime allies.
On Tuesday, Brian Kilmeade, a Fox News personality and longtime Trump ally, joined the chorus of criticism when he said, “Nobody cares about 2020. Nobody.”
“There is so much to talk about that matters,” Kilmeade continued, “…right now about what’s happening in the Ukraine, how China is… beginning to militarize everything around them, about to take Taiwan back,” Kilmeade said. “That’s what people wanna talk about. It’s not hard stuff.”
Then there is the fact that Republican officeholders, and not just the usual suspects, broke ranks in the aftermath of the RNC’s censure of Liz Chaney and Adam Kitzinger and its statement calling the January 6 insurrection “legitimate political discourse.”
For example, longtime Trump devotee, Indiana’s Republican Senator Todd Young told an interviewer on Monday that he doesn’t “know any American that regards [what happened on January 6] as legitimate political discourse,” adding, “I certainly haven’t encountered any of them here in the state of Indiana.”
The once-loyal Mike Pence felt free to take a direct swipe at the former president. Pence told the Federalist Society, “President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election.” The presidency, Pence added, “belongs to the American people, and the American people alone. Frankly, there is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.”
Polling done last month shows some slippage in the former president’s once vise-like hold on the allegiance of party regulars.
NBC asked respondents—“Are you more a supporter of Donald Trump than of the Republican Party?” The poll results showed that the share of Republicans who consider themselves more supporters of Trump than supporters of the GOP has declined, with 56% calling themselves backers of the party compared to 36% of Trump. Back in October 2020, 54% answered Trump and 38% answered the party.
Of course, there is a long way to go before the danger the former president poses to his party and the nation passes. And this is not the first time that anyone has warned that “his abrasive personality—seen, particularly by heartland conservative voters, as a bracing blast of anti-establishment air in 2016—has worn thin.”
But now, despite growing signs of Trump fatigue, the former president is unable to stop himself from talking almost exclusively about the 2020 election and the illusory ballot fraud which he insists cost him the election. Everything now seems to be about him and his injured vanity.
It wasn’t always that way.
For a long time, Trump did what successful demagogues do, forging a rhetorical identification between his grievances and the needs of the people whose support he sought.
Five years ago Trump talked about himself, in the classic language of a demagogue, as the people’s weapon against all the forces, seen and unseen, that were buffeting their lives. His rhetoric can be traced back through a long line of American demagogues dating back to President Andrew Jackson who boldly cast himself as “the people’s tribune, their sole defender against special interests and their minions in Congress.”
His acceptance speech at the 2016 Republican convention was filled with such language, merging the man and the people he wished to lead.
“Together,” Trump said, “we will lead our party back to the White House, and we will lead our country back to safety, prosperity, and peace. We will be a country of generosity and warmth. But we will also be a country of law and order.”
He talked directly to “the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice.” And he promised, “I am your voice.”
“When innocent people suffer,” Trump said, “because our political system lacks the will, or the courage, or the basic decency to enforce our laws – or worse still, has sold out to some corporate lobbyist for cash – I am not able to look the other way.”
He concluded by pledging “I’M WITH YOU, THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. I am your voice. So to every parent who dreams for their child, and every child who dreams for their future, I say these words to you tonight: I’m With You, and I will fight for you, and I will win for you.”
Powerful talk that cemented an alliance between Trump and his base.
But since his defeat, Trump has forgotten his base and their needs. He seems to have forgotten about the injuries he promised to repair or the carnage he promised to end. According to a Brookings report, the Big Lie has “stood in the way of him talking about issues like inflation or the ongoing pandemic that are likely of more immediate concern to voters than 2020.”
As The Atlantic’s Peter Wehner put it, “Trump’s mind has no room to entertain any other thoughts, at least not for long. His defeat is his obsession; it has pulled him into a deep, dark place. He wants to pull the rest of us into it as well.”
Because the only voice he seems to be able to hear is his own, he is, for the moment, unable to be an effective tribune of the people.
That failure may be bad for Trump and his most ardent supporters. But his narcissism just might save the Republican Party and America from Trump himself.