The narcissist’s playbook
A common move in the narcissist’s playbook is to look for minor wins after a major loss. The immediate goal is to assuage the ego. After Richard Nixon narrowly lost the race for the presidency in 1960 to John F. Kennedy, for example, he mounted a campaign for governor of California in 1962. Nixon got fairly trounced by incumbent Democratic Governor Pat Brown. The real salt in the wound was that Pat Brown’s candidacy got a personal boost from President John F. Kennedy.
This in turn led to Nixon’s controlled burn “last press conference,” in which he famously informed the members of the press that they wouldn’t have “Nixon to kick around any more.” He departed in an angry huff, presumably to never be heard from again.
But you can’t keep a good narcissist down. Six years later Nixon re-emerged as the candidate for president once more. And the rest, as they say, is history.
In this grand tradition comes Trump, the biggest narcissist by far to ever occupy the White House. Trump brought an added feature to his narcissism, he is what is informally known as a malignant narcissist, which is narcissism in its severest and most dangerous and most vindictive form.
Trump didn’t mean his public boast that he would “disappear” if he lost the presidency any more than he meant that he would reveal his taxes or give up golf if he won. It was just another casual lie insouciantly tossed out by the most famous of all malignant narcissists.
Not only has Trump not disappeared, he recently re-stoked his insatiable ego at CPAC by arranging to be the keynote speaker. Not content to merely show up and talk, he had to make the point that he was the king of the poison hill by showing up more than an hour late, embarrassing organizers who had to put on a series of delaying videos, as if it was all part of the plan.
One thing Trump hasn’t done yet is stage a rally. This is quite unusual for a narcissist as severe as Trump. The only reason I can think of for this glaring oversight is because he’s too broke to do it. Rallies cost money, and he can no longer stage them on the public dime. Even if he were to charge for attendance, the venue, security and personnel costs are prohibitive. Don’t discount the possibility that Trump will find some sucker to foot the bill, however. He may even find some city stupid enough to extend him credit, so he can skip out without paying.
Meanwhile Trump has had to content himself with humiliating climb-downs like his pitiful speech at CPAC, and what little control he has over his name, image and likeness. He recently sent a cease and desist letter to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. In the letter Trump demands that they stop using his name and likeness on fundraising outreach and merchandising. Trump wants full control over who can and cannot use his tarnished “brand.”
This is part of Trump’s petty revenge on every Republican who voted to impeach him, every Republican who voted to convict him, and every Republican who publicly or privately said anything critical of him. Trump is getting his vengeance on them all. Again, this is textbook malignant narcissism. Malignant narcissists are drawn to hatred and vindictive vengeance the way freezing people are drawn to fire.
Of course, a problem Trump faces that past narcissists like Nixon didn’t have to face, are the many criminal and civil actions being mounted against him in the midst of his quest to come back. There is no question that his plans for a personal apotheosis include a run for president in 2024. It is as predictable a thing as any from the narcissist’s playbook. But he quite probably may be too encumbered by legal troubles, and even prison, to pull it off.
The narcissist in Trump won’t permit him to contemplate what’s obvious to the rest of us. Unlike Nixon in 1962, Trump’s political epitaph has almost certainly already been written. Trump’s problem is he never liked to read. 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.