Election 2016

Trump Sets His Own Campaign on Fire: The Donald's Increasingly Insane Behavior Is All Part of a Strategy

Trump's brazen rhetoric and willingness to run as an independent may be proof that he was bullshitting us all along.

Photo Credit: Christopher Halloran/Shutterstock.com

“I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.” – Walter Sobchak, “The Big Lebowski”

It may be too generous to call Donald Trump a fascist or a jingoist – that implies he actually believes something. If you look closely at his past, however, you’ll find nothing resembling a philosophy or a value system. He’s flopped with the political winds for decades, taking contradictory positions on a number of issues, including health care, taxes, gun control, and foreign policy.

As Politico reported back in July, “Over the past two decades he [Trump] was a Republican, then an independent, then a Democrat, then a Republican. Now, registered as an independent, he leads the Republican 2016 presidential field.” This incoherence is reflected in Trump’s public remarks as well.

In 1999, for example, Trump left the GOP, saying “I believe the Republicans are just too crazy right.” Five years later, after quitting the Reform Party, Trump officially registered as a Democrat, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “It just seems that the economy does better under Democrats.” Also in 1999, Trump said he was “very pro-choice,” yet in January he told Bloomberg News that he’s “pro-life and I have [always] been pro-life.”

And the list goes on.

Like almost everyone else in the media, I’ve spent an egregious amount of my time analyzing Trump – Is he serious? What’s his strategy? Does he really want to be president? We’ll never know for sure what Trump was thinking when he lurched into this race, but this much is clear: He’s in over his head.

Rachel Maddow put an interesting question to her audience this week:

“It’s time to look seriously at this question, which is the question of whether or not Trump is trying to blow up his presidential campaign? Has he been spooked by his own impenetrable lead in the polls? Is he trying to get himself effectively kicked out of the Republican Party so there’s no longer a threat he might actually get nominated as that party’s nominee for president, or, God forbid, that he might win the office.”

Given how malleable his convictions are and how increasingly insane his proposals have been, it’s entirely possible that Trump is looking for ways to exit this race without appearing to quit. A “winner” like Trump can’t be seen losing to low-energy “losers” like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio – that would undermine his brand and thus defeat the point of running in the first place. If he does want out, he needs to save face, to leave on his own terms.

I suspect even Trump underestimated how stupid and credulous the conservatives supporting him would be. He’s dominated the polls for several months now without dignity or the aid of a single substantive idea or proposal – only half-baked slogans and incendiary rhetoric. And no matter how offensive he is, or who he insults (including Veterans), his numbers go up.

Perhaps Trump thought his “campaign” would last a few months; that it would boost his brand, keep him in the headlines, and hopefully sell a few books. But this thing spiraled out of control, and in ways no one could have anticipated. Trump, as much as anyone, knows his campaign is a farce.

Trump is a businessman, the consummate self-promoter. He wants to flip buildings, make deals, and continue being Donald Trump, whatever that means. Being president is impossibly difficult, even if you understand the issues and have the requisite experience. A real estate mogul with a company to manage cannot – and would not – seek this job.

Naturally, Trump is insisting that he’s in this to win it. In an interview published this morning in the Washington Post, he doubled down on his commitment: “I will never leave the race.” But like everything else Trump says, there’s no reason to take this seriously.

One indication that Trump is torpedoing his own campaign is that he continues tofloat the idea of running as an independent, not a Republican. If he wants to preserve his brand and ensure that he has no chance of becoming president, this makes a lot of sense. Were he to win the Republican nomination, he would almost certainly lose a general election, but there’s no guarantee of that.

As an independent, however, he’d have even less of a chance to win, but he would have all the leverage in the world without the fear of his bluff being called. And he’d remain in good standing with his followers, who would interpret such a move as more evidence of Trump’s anti-establishment credentials.

Is this not the best of all possible outcomes for Trump at this point?

If it happens that Trump was, in fact, bullshitting this entire time, then it makes him all the more detestable. He appears completely indifferent to the consequences of his campaign. He’s made a mockery of our political process and he’s cultivated a dangerous climate with his fascistic rhetoric, and for no reason but his own self-aggrandizement.

Trump would collapse under the weight of his own shame if he were capable of that emotion. But, alas, he isn’t, and so the circus rolls on.

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Sean Illing is a USAF veteran and a former political science professor. He is currently a staff writer for Salon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here.