I’m have always considered myself pretty good at figuring out people’s motives based on their actions, but Trump has long stumped me. I just couldn’t understand why he continued to only play to his relatively small group of super loyal followers (maybe 30% to 35% of the nation’s voting populations). At the same time he has ignored and even angered so many others including the independents he needs for reelection and even establishment Republicans. I now believe that many Republicans in Congress would just as soon that he would evaporate into thin air and be magically replaced by a conventional Republican if that could be somehow arranged. They know he has no true ideological foundation and that he embraced “conservative values” only during his campaign. However, they fear his popularity with their once loyal base.
One would think that every politician capable enough to be elected President of the United States would understand if he doesn’t want to be a one term President, he needs to try to find a way expand his base after taking office. Past Presidents have not always been successful in that endeavor, but many going back to Truman had some leeway in that regard because they began their first terms with high approval ratings, often above 60%. From 1945 to 2016 the presidents with the lowest initial approval ratings were George HW Bush – 56%, Bill Clinton – 59%, and George W. Bush – 58%. Surely Trump who began began his occupancy of the White House with only a 45% approval rating should have understood the need take steps to expand his popularity with the American voters.
However, he has done quite the opposite, catering mostly to his most rabid supporters at the expense of expanding his popularity with the rest of the electorate. Not surprisingly his approval rating (as measured by Gallup) dropped below 40% while his disapproval ratings have risen has high 61%. That’s not a successful formula for a President who wants to win a second term. Like many things that Trump does, his behavior in this regard never made sense to me.
Initially I attributed Trump’s preoccupation with his base to his narcissism and my firm belief that he didn’t begin his campaign with the objective of one day being elected Commander in Chief. I still believe to this day that in throwing his hat in the ring Trump had the same objectives he has pursued his entire adult life, to attract attention and to increase the value of his brand in order to make more money.
It was a huge opportunity to increase dramatically the media attention which he has always craved by not only by staging a Presidential campaign, but by doing so in very unconventional manner. As been reported in some circles, I believe that he had plans with Bannon to start a multimedia company to compete with FOX News after he was forced to drop out of the race. It made some sense that in the process he grew to love the adoring crowds and after being elected he wanted to keep them happy at all costs, but that reason never really worked for me.
Lately, based on further evidence, I have come to a different conclusion. I think that Trump really doesn’t like being President. He isn’t all happy that he doesn’t have the unfretted power over his domain that he had as CEO of his family owned business, but he fears above all else being viewed as a failure. Narcissistic people dread being viewed as failures in the eyes of others when in their own view they can do nothing wrong. That is why I presently believe that almost from the moment he first sat down behind his desk in the Oval Office, Trump has catered to his base of his most loyal supporters to the exclusion of almost everyone else.
I now believe Trump’s obsession with not being ultimately viewed a failure in his present job also explains much of his other extremely odd behavior. While he has an unbounded estimation of his own abilities and is obsessed with objective that others see him in the same light, he has never been concerned that some people don’t like him. He has gone out of his way to make enemies his whole business career. What he really craves is respect. Therefore, to be viewed as a failure at anything without an opportunity to ultimately prevail in the end is totally unacceptable to someone with Trump’s mindset. And what could be a bigger failure for a President than to be thrown unceremoniously out office before completing his first term, or alternately, being forced to resign. I have come to believe that Trump is presently fixated, not on running for reelection as he would have us believe, but on making it successfully through his first term unmolested.
If I am right this would explain many things in light of Trump’s present situation. He has demonstrated repeatedly that he is deathly afraid of Mueller’s investigation, and almost certainly with good reason. So assuming that he has something to hide and is very concerned that Mueller will uncover it, everything else falls into place.
First of all there are Trump’s constant attacks on the investigation, which have recently intensified, even calling out Mueller by name and attacking him personally. However, at the same time he is insuring that the word gets out that he has no intention of firing the Special Council. Of course anyone who trusts Trump’s word is absolute fool, but firing Mueller would not be easy and surely not in Trump’s best interest. The only thing we can trust is that Trump will act on his gut instincts and he seems to have developed very good survival instincts over the years.
So I have come to the conclusion that, at least for the present, Trump does not intend to fire Mueller. (Of course nothing is ever certain with Trump because he could change his mind tomorrow.) I think it is his current objective to try, along with his surrogates, to discredit Mueller’s investigation so that eventually when he is accused of wrong doing he can continue to use the “fake news” defense and his most loyal supporters will continue to believe him.
Now it is a fair question to ask why is that important given that his loyal supporters make up at most only about a third of the voting population. Trump believes it is important because they may be well be his best chance to avoid impeachment. You see that segment of the voting population may only make up 30% to 35% or so of the voting population, but they also make up 85% of those who vote in Republican primaries. Incumbent Republicans, especially those in the House, desperately need the support of those voters to win reelection.
It is readily apparent that this is the reason why most Republicans in Congress are afraid to cross Trump. Notice that almost all of the Congressional Republican who have been outspoken in their criticism of Trump are those who have already announced that they will not seek reelection or, in the case of John McCain, are unlikely to do run for another term. This frees them to speak out because they no longer have to fear antagonizing the Trump’s supporters in their party. This also explains why they may warn Trump not to fire Mueller, but they will not attempt to pass legislation to protect the investigation from Trump’s possible interference. From their perspectives they don’t want to anger Trump supporters “unnecessarily”.
So I believe much the motivation for Trump’s behavior is predicated on his fear of being labeled a failed President. While even though he originally never really believed he would win, once he did it evidently it became apparent to him that a close look into business dealings and the Russian interference into our election process might not only delegitimize his victory, but worst yet get him thrown out of office prematurely. Others close to him apparently agree; Steve Bannon once predicted that Trump has only a 30% chance of completing his full term.
Many Republicans in Congress apparently have the same concerns and fear that if Trump falls he will take the rest of the GOP down with him. Consequently some Republican Congressmen such as Devin Nunes and other Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee have gone out of their way to become his protectors and enablers, even at the expense of their own reputations.
This would explain Trump’s behavior in two critical areas. First, while it may have seemed illogical on the surface, much of his efforts in the White House have been aimed at protecting and expanding his relationship with a minority of voter because believes he needs them to avoid impeachment. Trump evidently believes that if he can just keep them in his camp, House Republicans will not dare to vote for impeachment regardless of Mueller’s finding because it would endanger their own political careers. Trump understands that Republican incumbents know they can’t survive their Republican primaries if they vote to impeach Trump and his supporters remain loyal to him.
On the other hand, Trump also understands that whatever charges he expects Mueller to bring against him will be accompanied with strong supporting evidence which will be difficult to challenge. Trump undoubtedly fears that even his most loyal supporters, those who have rejected countless reasons to turn against him in the past, might be tempted to believe that evidence. Consequently he is preparing for that eventuality by trying to convince his people that the investigation is so tainted and politically motivated that whatever evidence is ultimately uncovered by the investigation must totally contrived and cannot possibly be believed.
In summery I believe that despite his “election rallies” and rhetoric to the contrary, Trump presently is not even thinking about a second term. He is concentrating all his efforts on surviving his initial one along with grabbing a few “victories” along the way to embellish his image. I truly don’t believe that he enjoys being President. He has a strong authoritarian streak and is frustrated with the checks and balances of our system of government and his inability to bend the Washington environment to his will as he bragged that he would. The fact that his hand-picked team is often so disgusted with his unsettling behavior that the White House leaks like a sieve must drive him crazy. Consequently, I think that if he manages to survive his first term, Trump will declare a “great” victory and return to private live where he can continue his philandering and unseemly business practices in relative privacy.
However, what Trump’s current strategy does not take into consideration is the growing possibility that his unstable behavior will ultimately result in a Democratic take over of the House of Representatives. If Democrats, not Republicans, are ultimately running the show in the House, the opinions of Trump’s loyal supporters won’t matter if Mueller and his team find Trump to be guilty of an impeachable offense. Trump could then find himself returning to private live even earlier than he planned, in disgrace.