Commentators are shocked by his reaction to the midterms. They shouldn’t be.
Following the returns from the midterm elections—in which Democrats captured the House of Representatives, seven governorships, and a large number of state legislature seats—the president conducted a long and highly emotionally-charged press conference during which his behavior shocked seasoned commentators. It shouldn’t have. Trump followed three “Trumpian principles” that characterize everything he does.
1. Everything is a victory.
The president announced that the election was “very close to a complete victory.” The press corps was baffled by this claim given the obvious Republican losses—that the House is now under Democratic control is not a subjective impression. But here is the ironclad rule of Trumpian psychology: Everything that ever occurs that reflects on the president is always a clear sign that he has won, that he is right, that he is great. Trump can never say anything in which he is involved is not a victory—indeed, the greatest victory or success ever—from the size of his inaugural crowd, to the margin of his win, to his Administration’s economic, international, and political triumphs. Any amount of bending, of creating, reality necessary to fulfill this dictum is simply folded into this first rule of Trump.
2. Any apparent shortfall is due to others.
The president began his press conference by calling out the names of Republican congresspeople who lost their seats for the purpose of blaming them for not having fully embraced him. This divergence from any norm of presidential behavior simply reflects that Trump will never acknowledge any type of personal flaw or misstep; if things don’t align perfectly with his intentions, it’s because he was derailed by the faulty actions of others. In this case, he named incumbents who felt that appearing to be too close to the president wasn’t a winning strategy in their districts—a view that their ultimate loss might be seen to support. And, of course, Trump ignored the candidates who did embrace him but who lost, like Katie Arrington, who defeated South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford in the Republican primary with Trump’s support but then lost in the general election. (Arrington herself blamed Sanford.)
3. Silence anyone who disagrees, or who violates rules 1 and 2.
A shocking moment at the press conference occurred when Trump interrupted CNN’s chief Washington reporter Jim Acosta during a question—calling him a “rude, terrible person,” then sending an intern to take the microphone from Acosta, and subsequently pulling Acosta’s White House press credentials.
This inability to tolerate anything other than complete agreement and subservience to his wishes is, obviously, an extremely troubling psychological and political trait. Psychologically, it describes a pathological emotional fragility; politically, it presages increasingly authoritarian and repressive measures against the press and political opponents.
However troubling these traits—individually and together—are, they may not be ignored, gainsaid, or considered temporary or subject to remedy. They are Trump, and mark his every utterance, emotional response, and presidential action. So be prepared: There should be no more surprised reactions.