the national interest

Delusional President Demands CNN Retract Poll Showing Him Down

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Yesterday, President Trump lashed out at CNN’s poll showing him losing to Joe Biden by 14 points, directing legendarily inaccurate Republican pollster John McLaughlin to write a memo claiming the network deliberately engineered a false result.

Today, Trump has sent a letter to the network, signed by actual lawyers, demanding it retract the poll. CNN has obviously refused, explaining why its poll is in fact legitimate and not Fake. CNN’s result, showing Biden ahead by 14 points, is at the top end of a range of recent polling, but many other surveys have found Biden leading by low double digits.

As is the case with many of his erratic moves, the question arises whether Trump is actually suffering from a serious mental illness, or is instead pretending to believe something fantastical in an effort to rally his base. In this case, there is a plausible story for why Trump could be acting out of conscious cynicism. He seems to believe that polls themselves exert a strong pull on election outcomes, and that unfavorable polling will discourage his supporters from showing up.

On the other hand, there is a fair amount of evidence suggesting Trump is not playing a clever messaging game, or even a stupid one, but actually believes his own lies.

A month and a half ago, Trump threatened to sue his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, for bringing him bad polls, according to both the Washington Post and CNN. “Trump told Parscale that he did not believe the polling that had been presented to him, even though it came from the campaign and the RNC,” the Post reported. “‘I’m not losing to Joe Biden,’” Trump said at one point, both of these people said, adding that the president used profanities throughout the call.” The Post also reported that Parscale managed to mollify the boss by bringing “polling numbers that were more positive for Trump,” which resulted in Trump being “in a far better mood.”

Two days ago, the Daily Beast reported that Trump’s reelection campaign is spending $400,000 to run pro-Trump ads in Washington, D.C. The Washington market has no value — Trump is not seriously contesting either the city or its suburbs. The point is to soothe the president. “With Trump stuck in that milieu of anxiety, his re-election team is hoping that the ads may put him at ease that his formidable political machine is hard at work defending him and attacking his enemies,” notes the report.

This morning, the Washington Post casually drops the following sentence into the middle of an account of the campaign’s difficulties: “Trump has become obsessed with polling and lashes out at those who say he is losing to Biden, according to two White House officials and a longtime Trump ally.”

The reporters, perhaps because their sensitivities have been dulled by years of daily exposure to this kind of madness, immediately moved on to other points, rather than linger over the sheer irrationality revealed by this line. It is quite a conundrum for the president’s staff. He is obsessed with polls, but he becomes enraged upon being informed he’s losing to Biden. Given that every poll shows him losing to Biden, his advisers don’t seem to have a lot of good options.

Imagine we were discussing a regular person suffering this kind of pathology. (Jim loves Nascar, can’t get enough of it, wants to watch it all the time, but the sight of automobiles makes him go ballistic, so don’t let him see any cars.) We would be talking about finding him help.

The balance of evidence suggests that Trump, at some level, actually subscribes to the fantasy he’s constructed. And he’s surrounded himself with lackeys who will play along with the fantasy. McLaughlin, whose extraordinarily inaccurate and overly favorable polling has caused Republicans to warn against hiring him, wrote a bizarre memo filled with irrelevant or tendentious objections to CNN’s methodology. His lawyers cite these absurd points in constructing an even more fanciful demand that CNN somehow retract and apologize for its polling.

Perhaps these people are not trying to inspire the Trump base, but are instead creating a Truman Showlike fantasy world for their client.

Delusional President Demands CNN Retract Poll