Politics & Policy

Trump the Teenage Bully

(Matthew Busch/Getty)
He’s no P. T. Barnum, he’s Neidermeyer from Animal House.

As much as I’ve slammed The Donald for his inconsistent and incoherent policy views, I’ve always praised Trump’s intelligence: “He is the P. T. Barnum of American politics, a brilliant self-promoter who knows exactly what he’s doing and who changes his opinions constantly to match what he thinks audiences want to hear, much as Barnum used to switch out circus acts between towns on his tour.” A liberal defender of Trump, former CNN host Piers Morgan, agrees: “He’s a smart, cunning, alert showman who knows what it takes to win.”

In the wake of last Thursday’s debate and his infamous “blood feud” with Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly, I have to say I was wrong. His swift, heady rise in the polls has brought out the inner Donald Trump, someone who could have stepped out of Animal House.

When Roger Stone, one of the master practitioners of the Dark Side of the Political Force, resigns as Donald Trump’s strategist after 30 years of loyal service, you know something is up. Stone, who still calls Trump a friend, is circumspect about his reasons for leaving. Publicly, he tweeted: “@realDonaldTrump didn’t fire me — I fired Trump. Diasgree [sic] with diversion to food fight with @megynkelly away core issue messages.”

But Stone told friends on Saturday that Trump is “losing his grip on reality” and that “he has these yes-men around him,” according to Politico. “And now he’s living in a parallel world.”

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Others close to The Donald agree. Kate Bohner, who, with Trump, co-authored Trump: The Art of the Comeback, told CNN “This is a Trump I haven’t seen before.” She went on to say: “I don’t want to hear about blood coming out of people’s eyes and certainly not what it morphed into on [CNN anchor Don] Lemon’s show.” In explaining how different Trump is now from the person with whom she worked, Bohner said: “Sometimes he seizes on one detail and won’t let it go. If I were his campaign adviser, I would have said, okay, you said it on the debate, stop, no more talking about this. Let’s just leave it in the green room and certainly no tweeting it at 3:49 a.m.

Trump is like a rampaging high-school student with no adult chaperone around who can take away his Twitter keys.

But Trump is like a rampaging high-school student with no adult chaperone around who can take away his Twitter keys. His campaign staff has complained that he refuses to read briefing books and said that he took pride in not preparing for last Thursday’s debate. A Trump business associate told me that his long-time secretary once confessed that she couldn’t possibly bring him a piece of bad news. “I’ve kept my job this long by knowing I must never bring him bad news,” she reportedly said. That’s a clue to extreme narcissism.

So let’s recap. Someone who is so thin-skinned that he can’t move on from a slight. Someone who refuses to accept reality and then act accordingly. Someone who has a form of attention-deficit disorder, in which he constantly craves attention. Someone who is constantly boasting about past glories, like an ROTC officer describing his last weekend-warrior experience. Someone who can’t control his language and constantly belittles and bullies everyone he doesn’t like by flinging insults such as “loser,” “stupid,”  “worthless,” “fat,” and “slob.”

#related#P. T. Barnum never made it big acting like that. He knew when to turn down the temperature — and he left business to become a successful legislator and mayor. Still, as a clever crony capitalist who claims to buy politicians, Trump knows when to focus and not be immature. The closest model for him I can think of is Douglas C. Neidermeyer, the bullying ROTC student leader in the 1978 classic college film Animal House

We might learn a lesson from how the Delta Tau Chi fraternity dealt with Neidermeyer in Animal House. They never granted him the aura of authority he claimed, they constantly ridiculed his pomposity, and they provided him with opportunities to self-destruct. No matter how isolated in his own reality Donald Trump is, the outside world will eventually bring him down to earth.

— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for National Review Online.

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