It is not unusual for political campaigns that are struggling through hard times and bad press to exhibit a sort of siege mentality. But the candidate him- or herself does not typically have the luxury of indulging feelings of rage and hatred toward detractors right out there in public. As in so many other respects, Donald Trump is setting new and dubious precedents in his return to an uninhibited state of fury during the final stages of his presidential bid.
Here’s how Politico describes his mood:
[P]eople close to the flailing GOP nominee say he’s viewed the staggering setbacks over the past four days as license to loosen up, be himself, and wage a personal war against the unified forces of the liberal media and dying GOP establishment.
Venture onto the pro-Trump right-wing Breitbart website and a Trump-Pence ad pops up: “It’s Us Against the World,” it proclaims, but there’s no Pence, just two Trumps — the glowering candidate and his image in a mirror.
“He hates all these guys, anyway, never liked kissing their butts, so he’s inclined just to say good riddance,” said a top Republican who has known Trump for years.
In the wake of his second debate performance, in which his main objective seemed to be solidifying his appeal to the angrier sections of the GOP base, Trump is returning to his original persona as a political Visigoth bent on sacking and pillaging the capital city, with its Republican inhabitants receiving no quarter unless they throw open the gates to him and pledge unconditional allegiance to the new warlord. A normal politician would have ignored Paul Ryan’s disrespectful advice to House Republicans to feel free to distance themselves from their tarnished presidential nominee. But Trump fired right back on Twitter, appearing to exult in this confirmation of Establishment treachery:
Presumably all of this intra-Republican bad blood would be put aside if Trump somehow won and he found himself forced to work with Ryan on a big and nasty budget reconciliation bill that implemented their common promises to repeal Obamacare, cut top personal and corporate tax rates, throw money at the Pentagon, and smash the welfare state. But in the more likely event of a Trump defeat, the unavoidable recriminations are going to be loud and violent.
Already the Trump camp is moving beyond conventional complaints that the Establishment is sitting on its hands and its wallets and refusing to help the nominee win. A conspiracy theory is spreading rapidly that people close to Paul Ryan are the culprits who handed the Washington Post the Access Hollywood video that is causing Trump so much grief. Trump bravo Jerry Falwell Jr. went public with the charge:
I think this whole tape… video tape thing was planned, I think it was timed, I think it might have even been a conspiracy among establishment Republicans who have known about it for weeks and who tried to time it to do the maximum damage to Donald Trump.
This is not a good sign that Republicans are going to be able to keep a lid on their mutual recriminations if Trump duly loses. If many of his minions really do believe Paul Ryan and company deliberately blew up his candidacy, they are not likely to quietly go back to being loyal followers of the GOP.