A subplot of this election has been the Rolling Stones demanding that Donald Trump stop using their songs at his rallies – “Start It Up” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and that sort of thing. But they won’t sue. You don’t sue a fabulously wealthy man who will certainly countersue, for defamation, and bury you in legal costs, and bankrupt you. That’s what Donald Trump does. It’s not worth it – if you win, you lose – but they could go the other way and tell him to use their 1966 hit 19th Nervous Breakdown:
You better stop, look around. / Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes, here it comes. / Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown.
It’s a good riff, with a story:
When you were a child you were treated kind / But you were never brought up right. / You were always spoiled with a thousand toys but still you cried all night.
The Stones’ next single was Paint It Black – about how awful everything in the world seems to be. Screw it all. Paint it black. That might be useful too, given how Trump tells us America is a total hellhole only he can fix – but the nervous breakdown song is appropriate at the moment. He just had another one:
The tweets started around 3:20 a.m. on Friday. Inside Trump Tower, a restless figure stirred in the predawn darkness, nursing his grievances and grabbing a device that often lands him in hot water.
On his Android phone, Donald J. Trump began to tap out bursts of digital fury: He mocked Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe and a popular Latin American actress, as a “con,” the “worst” and “disgusting.”
In a final flourish, before the sun came up, the Republican presidential nominee claimed – without offering any evidence – that she had appeared in a “sex tape.”
The tirade fit a pattern. It is when Mr. Trump is alone with his thoughts, and untethered from his campaign staff, that he has seemed to commit his most self-destructive acts.
“There has always been this dangerous part of him that will go too far and do something that backfires,” said Michael D’Antonio, the author of “The Truth About Trump,” a new biography of the real estate mogul.
“His worst impulses,” he added, “are self-defeating.”
That is what the Rolling Stones song was about, and everyone saw this coming:
In quick succession, Mr. Trump has repeated his critique that Ms. Machado gained a “massive amount of weight” after she won the Miss Universe crown in 1996; suggested that former President Bill Clinton’s infidelities are fair game for campaign attacks; and urged his followers to “check out” a sex tape that may not exist. (Ms. Machado appeared in a risqué scene on a reality television show, but fact-checkers have discovered no sex tape.)
He’s losing it, but this fits a pattern:
Over the years, he has issued a stream of needlessly cruel and seemingly off-the-cuff insults – both on and off social media – that have inflamed the public. He declared on Twitter that Kim Novak, a reclusive 81-year-old actress at the time, “should sue her plastic surgeon,” sending her into hiding. He derided the appearance of a rival, Carly Fiorina, angering female voters by asking: “Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” And he criticized the mother of a slain American soldier, musing that as a Muslim woman, she was not “allowed” to speak.
Such fulminations have almost always arisen from Mr. Trump’s wounded pride, after he has been attacked or has suffered a setback. And they have frequently played out on Twitter, at hours of the day when much of America is asleep.
The early-morning tweets about Ms. Machado were a reminder, said the Republican strategist Charles Black that Mr. Trump “cannot let something drop until he proves he’s right, and it’s beside the point who’s right.”
Around midnight one night during the primary campaign, he posted an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz, the wife of a Republican rival, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Early one morning, he alleged a sexual affair between two well-known television anchors who had criticized him. Early one Saturday, he distributed an image of Mrs. Clinton, surrounded by falling cash and a six-pointed star that many said was a Star of David and was anti-Semitic. And at 11 one evening, he shared a digitally altered image of Jeb Bush appearing to pick his nose.
“Late night Twitter-drunk Donald is back at it!” an aide to Mr. Bush replied at the time.
And now he was at it again:
On Friday, Mr. Trump was at it again between 3:20 and 5:30 a.m., issuing a series of indignant messages that mocked Ms. Machado and Mrs. Clinton, who raised the experience of the former beauty queen to hurt Mr. Trump during the debate.
Mrs. Clinton, he wrote “was duped and used by my worst Miss U. Hillary floated her as an “angel” without checking her past, which is terrible!”
A few minutes later, Mr. Trump theorized – again, without offering any evidence – that Mrs. Clinton had helped Ms. Machado become a United States citizen so that the Democratic nominee could mention the beauty queen in the debate to hurt Mr. Trump.
Everyone is out to get him, but he maintains that’s the truth:
Mr. Trump, in an interview on Friday afternoon, said he remained proud of his tweets.
“Why would I have regrets? I’m a very truthful person, and I’m telling the truth. Now people understand it. And before the tweets, people didn’t understand it.”
Not everyone felt that way:
Ms. Machado on Friday called Mr. Trump’s online assault “cheap lies with bad intentions” and said that she would not be intimidated.
Aides to Mrs. Clinton, who have long warned of his reckless ways on Twitter, said Mr. Trump’s behavior had once again bolstered their argument that he is mentally unfit for the presidency.
“I mean, his latest Twitter meltdown is unhinged, even for him,” Mrs. Clinton said on Friday.
“Really, who gets up at 3 o’clock in the morning to engage in a Twitter attack against a former Miss Universe?” she asked.
That’s a good question, and maybe the question of the election, to which Joan Walsh offers this:
We already know the Trump phenomenon channels the tremendous and tragic backlash to the advancements of women and people of color in the last few decades. The folks in those “Make America Great Again” hats are almost always white and usually male. They are in thrall to a reassuring story that restores men to the head of society and whites to their central, superior place. Sure, there’s a strain of economic anxiety that reflects troubling economic trends for the white working class over the last 40 years. But Trump is also relying on male anger at female advancement. His serial adultery and his swaggering misogyny are key to his appeal to some older white men.
But they’re appalling to women of every race and age group, who are coming to see Trump as the belittling boss and callow playboy who shames employees, wives, and daughters alike with cruel or crude comments about their appearance.
And he does that in the quiet hours just before dawn, alone with his phone, in the dark. That’s a bit creepy. That takes the belittling boss and callow playboy thing to a whole new level, but a useful level:
The Clinton campaign clearly invited this latest clash with Trump over Machado – it had an ad featuring her story ready for release the morning after the debate. But I’m not sure anyone dreamed Trump would cooperate so willingly with their ploy.
Or maybe they did. It’s clear that Trump is coming undone by the notion that these two women – one “fat” the other old, both past their sell-date in the eyes of Trump and men like him – are not hiding somewhere in shame, maybe laboring quietly in the back office of one of his golf clubs where no one can see them, but out in the public square trying to bring him down. One is even beating him in the race for president…
That may have put him over the edge, and that in turn made this breakdown more serious:
It’s no accident that three of Trump’s victims – Machado, the Khan family, and Judge Gonzalo Curiel – are not white. Hostility to minorities is the animating energy of the campaign. But the candidate’s derangement over Machado surpasses his prior breakdowns – for a good reason. A woman he once controlled, quite literally – making her exercise in front of the media, to prove she was taking his demands to lose weight seriously – is defying him publicly. Another woman, Hillary Clinton, refused to slink into obscurity after her husband humiliated her (last year Trump shared a fan’s tweet asking, “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?”) and is currently leading him in the race for the presidency.
As Trump reflexively lashes back at these two noncompliant women, millions of other women are seeing the sort of man who’s kept them back, on the job and sometimes at home, and they’re appalled. During a campaign in which she has occasionally struggled with a lack of enthusiasm, she is getting a great gift from her opponent. Women voters outnumber men, and Clinton is counting on most of them to want to humiliate a chronic humiliator – at the polls.
Perhaps he knows that now:
Donald Trump said on Friday that he would not necessarily accept the results of the presidential election in the event that Hillary Clinton defeats him, reversing his statement four days earlier that he would “absolutely” respect them.
After the first presidential debate on Monday, the Republican nominee told reporters “absolutely I would” honor the results of the election should he lose. In an interview with the New York Times on Friday, he backtracked: “We’re going to have to see. We’re going to see what happens. We’re going to have to see.”
Earlier that day at a rally in Detroit, Trump resurfaced fears of voter fraud and his unsubstantiated complaints of a “rigged” election. He told supporters that voter fraud is “a big, big problem in this country”, although research has found a few dozen potential incidents of in-person voter fraud in 14 years of US elections. He also urged them to “go and watch the polling places and make sure it is on the up and up”.
In short, he will not lose to a woman. He cannot lose to this woman. If he loses to a woman, this woman, he’ll dig in and claim he didn’t lose. That just cannot be. Perhaps he’ll ask those who did vote for him to take up arms and fix this problem. Maybe he wouldn’t do that. Maybe the threat is enough to settle his ego issues.
And these are ego issues. Josh Marshall calls it the fever inside:
Trump lives in a psychic economy of aggression and domination. There are dominators and the dominated. No in between. Every attack he receives, every ego injury must be answered, rebalanced with some new aggression to reassert dominance. These efforts are often wildly self-destructive. We’ve seen the pattern again and again. The Khans, Judge Curiel, Ted Cruz, virtually every Republican presidential candidate at one point or another, half the reporters who’ve covered Trump. We can’t know a man’s inner thoughts. But we’ve seen action and reaction more than enough times to infer, or rather deduce, his instincts and needs with some precision…
Trump is injured by attacks and slights as we all are. But for Trump they create an inner turbulence which forces an almost peristaltic response. The inner equilibrium must be reestablished. The salient fact about Trump isn’t his cruelty or penchant for aggression and violence. It’s his inability to control urges and drives most people gain control over very early in life. There are plenty of sadists and sociopaths in the world. They’re not remarkable. The scariest have a high degree of impulse control (iciness) which allows them to inflict pain on others when no one is looking or when they will pay no price for doing so. What is true with Trump is what every critic has been saying for a year: the most obvious and contrived provocation can goad this thin skinned charlatan into a wild outburst. He’s a seventy year old man with children and grandchildren and he has no self-control.
And now we have this:
Trump becomes unhinged whenever he is challenged or insulted or injured by someone he perceives as beneath him in the gender or racial hierarchy. The list is almost endless: Hillary Clinton, Alicia Machado, Obama, the Khans, Judge Curiel. Trump is a bully who lives in a zero sum psychic economy of dominance. There are dominators and the dominated. That operates with white men too, as we saw in the Republican primaries. But when the injury comes from someone he believes is beneath him, there is a special intensity and charge. Taking down a Bush or a Cruz, Trump was vicious and dominating but seemingly in control. He wielded his aggressive bullying as a weapon. There’s aggression but not rage. In these other cases, he’s clearly not in control. It overcomes him.
But this time it’s different:
Trump hit a brick wall in Monday night’s debate. He didn’t prepare. It took Hillary Clinton, a woman he’d spent weeks calling frail and weak, only 15 or 20 minutes to knock him off stride and reduce him to a defensive posture for the rest of the debate. In boxing terms, she had him on the ropes in under half an hour and landed punches at will for the next hour. He attacked, interrupted, brought up various attack lines. But he was fundamentally reacting to her throughout. She dominated him in front of more than 80 million people. His inability to contain or damage her kept him angry and unfocused, flailing through the encounter.
After this, he denied anything had gone wrong in the debate, insisting that he’d won. This would be at least partly expected for any campaign but this was more wounded pride than spin. Then he got angry at staffers and supporters who said he’d underperformed. Then he spent three days calling a woman fat and saying he’d gotten no thanks for giving her the ‘opportunity’ to stop being fat.
Then he was up just after 5 am this morning ranting at Machado on Twitter…
For Trump, Machado must be like a terrifying nightmare: a strong, beautiful Latina draped in an American flag, who is intent on hurting him but who he is incapable of injuring.
And this was a compound nightmare:
As of this morning polls already showed that the debate and its immediate fallout had moved public opinion decisively in Clinton’s favor, though of course the tide has turned before. The sum of all these facts – the debate defeat, the fight with Machado, the faltering polls – seem to be propelling Trump into a new rage spiral, rooted in narcissistic injuries, seemingly catalyzing itself, reinforcing itself in spiraling cycles of rage and self-injury. As we stumble and march toward Election Day, the pressure on everyone grows. But the effects on Trump seem greater and the assaults are more compressed in time. The exposure is greater. I’m curious whether he can right himself before his next encounter with Clinton.
He’d better do that, because the party that is now his is in a tough spot:
Republican leaders and strategists are unnerved by Donald Trump’s erratic attacks on a Latina beauty queen and other outbursts this week, increasingly fearful that the GOP nominee is damaging his White House hopes and doing lasting harm to the party in the campaign’s final stretch.
Party officials said they are newly embarrassed by Trump’s impulsive behavior and exasperated by his inability to concentrate on his change message and frame the race as a referendum on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, according to interviews with more than two dozen of them.
Senate and House candidates are ducking questions about Trump and distancing themselves, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has refused to talk about him. And few elected leaders are counseling him.
“Maybe every two weeks,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said to a business crowd about how often he speaks with Trump.
Ryan doesn’t want to be tarred with this, but the problem is that Republicans know they have been:
Reflecting upon Trump’s actions, Matt Borges, the Republican Party chairman in battleground Ohio, said, “Can this thing just end – please?”
Borges said he has personally urged Trump to run “a very disciplined different kind of campaign,” although he remains confident that Trump will carry Ohio regardless.
Former Virginia Congressman Thomas M. Davis, for decades one of the GOP’s top national campaign tacticians, said there is mounting concern that Trump’s lack of restraint is an anchor on him and the party.
“You’ve got the nomination of the party, and you’ve got a certain responsibility to the party to try to win this thing, but he gets sidetracked very easily,” Davis said. “He goes off on personal vendettas, and it’s just not helpful if you want to win. The tragedy is he has every opportunity to win.”
He does, but he throws those opportunities away because he’s busy with other matters, personal matters, in which case it’s best to just hide:
Few Republicans were keen on discussing Trump’s debate performance or defending the personal dramas he has reignited. McConnell bluntly swept aside questions about Trump.
“This is not something that I am going to discuss today,” the Senate leader told one reporter who asked about Trump’s impact on Senate races.
Pressed by another reporter about why he would not speak about Trump, McConnell replied, “Because I choose not to.”
When Ryan was asked to comment on Trump’s attacks Tuesday on Machado, the Wisconsin Republican demurred: “I was working out and working this morning. I didn’t watch.”
Embattled GOP senators found various ways to avoid evaluating Trump’s debate turn.
“I didn’t see it, guys. I was on an airplane,” Florida’s Marco Rubio told reporters.
“I have no idea. I’m not a pundit,” Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson said.
Okay, go ahead, say you don’t know what’s going on. You have no idea. See how far that gets you:
Terry Sullivan, a veteran GOP consultant who managed Rubio’s presidential campaign, said: “He’s definitely hurting the party if for no other reason than these candidates keep getting asked about stupid Trump crap. At best, he is a distraction for these candidates – and at worst he’s a huge drag on the ticket.”
And that’s where the Rolling Stones come in. They need to give Trump explicit written permission to use that special song at the start of all his rallies from here on out, as he enters – “Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes, here it comes – here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown!”
He might do that. He won’t get the joke.