For Trump advocates who felt a frisson of anticipatory anxiety while they waited more than an hour for their president’s speech, I could have alleviated their fears. It was impossible for Trump’s CPAC speech to fail. When you consider the religious devotion of his fanatical fans, he could have come out on stage and read the back of a cereal box and his drooling, knuckle-dragging, cretinous claque would have found a way not just to excuse it but to extol it.
As it was Trump was late for the speech because he could be. His contempt for his fans, the attendees of CPAC and everyone else was evidenced by his contrived tardiness. Showing up late was part of the plan. He wanted to establish that he’s the most important person in the world and when it came time for him to hang a price tag on that importance he priced it according to his own overvalued estimation of himself against his contempt for anything not Donald J. Trump.
Almost exactly two years ago when I echoed Michael Cohen’s concern that Trump would never voluntarily relinquish the White House, much was made of the notion that we had to win by a landslide in order to convince hardcore Trump supporters that we truly had won. My personal experience with malignant narcissists and their codependents told a different story.
My experience taught me two things. The first was that Trump would never concede that he lost the election. The second was that the size of our 2020 victory made absolutely no difference. We could have swept the electoral college of every single state and Trump — and therefore his enablers and most rabid fans — would never concede, would always maintain that the election was stolen. The depth of the ignorance of his fans equals the depth of his personal denial. Once again ignorance carried the day on Sunday.
Returning to my familiar theme, that of my personal experience with malignant narcissists, there were no surprises. Trump will continue to cling to the idea that the election was stolen from him for the rest of his life and, for that reason, so will the cretinous base of religious fanatics and fools who support him. There cannot and will not ever be another narrative. Theirs is an ignorance that cannot be dissuaded by logic or evidence. It is an ignorance that the vast majority of them will carry to their graves.
The reason for this is that their ignorance is built on religious zeal. The only thing that could shake that zeal would be some falling out with their own bizarrely constructed religious beliefs. Zealots sometimes become atheists and agnostics by slow attrition or some profound disappointment. But, as experience has taught me, the vast majority of them will adhere to their ignorance until death do they part.
Nothing Trump had to say during his 90 minute speech surprised me. It was taken directly from the malignant narcissist’s playbook and fashioned for Trumpian circumstances. Trump forming his own political party was always out of the question. It would have meant a tacit declaration of defeat, that he had somehow “lost” mainstream Republicans, and Trump never loses. No, the trouble was with the “RINOs” who abandoned him and the Republican Party, not the other way around. Trump didn’t leave, they did, and now, according to Trump, he is the Republican Party.
Of course Trump repeated his false claims of electoral fraud and hinted at another run in 2024 (“I may even decide to beat them for a third time, OK?”). Of course he excoriated the new administration and criticized Joe Biden for reversing his hard line on immigration and border security. Of course he proclaimed his tenure as president the success that it most emphatically was not. Again, there were no surprises.
My experience with narcissists makes all this familiar ground for me. But while it reliably predicts Trump’s attitudes toward his own failure and what he will claim about it, what it won’t do is predict the future. I cannot see as far ahead as 2024. No one can. But for Trump the road ahead is full of hazards, hazards that very well may include prison. Should Trump be sent to prison, much of his base will be further galvanized. Mark my words, they will remind everyone that St. Paul did prison time.
If CPAC reminds us of anything it reminds us that worship of Donald Trump is alive and well and his speech was, in the eyes of the fanatics who still love him, perfection. Like all magical thinkers everything they believe is unfalsifiable, and as such the speech was a specimen of unfalsifiable perfection. Magical thinking is a virus and Trumpism is nothing more than its latest mutation. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.