First, there was Trump’s decision to end his kludgy blog less than a month after launching it. According to my Washington Post colleagues Drew Harwell and Josh Dawsey, Trump joined the masses of millennials in abandoning his blog because no one was reading it. Also he did not like being mocked about it: “Upset by reports from The Washington Post and other outlets highlighting its measly readership and concerns that it could detract from a social media platform he wants to launch later this year, Trump ordered his team Tuesday to put the blog out of its misery, advisers said.”
There are reasons to doubt the success of whatever social media launch Trump plans for the future. And that is apparently what Trump will need to do, because Facebook has decided to keep its ban on him for at least two more years depending on his conduct. Based on Trump’s petulant response, it seems unlikely that his conduct will change Facebook’s mind come 2023.
Amazingly, neither of these was the most pathetic story about Trump in the past week. No, that started with a Maggie Haberman tweet:
I can attest, from speaking to an array of different sources, that Donald Trump does indeed believe quite genuinely that he — along with former senators David Perdue and Martha McSally — will be “reinstated” to office this summer after “audits” of the 2020 elections in Arizona, Georgia, and a handful of other states have been completed. I can attest, too, that Trump is trying hard to recruit journalists, politicians, and other influential figures to promulgate this belief — not as a fundraising tool or an infantile bit of trolling or a trial balloon, but as a fact....The scale of Trump’s delusion is quite startling. This is not merely an eccentric interpretation of the facts or an interesting foible, nor is it an irrelevant example of anguished post-presidency chatter. It is a rejection of reality, a rejection of law, and, ultimately, a rejection of the entire system of American government.
The question is what to do with this information. On the one hand, it’s pretty pathetic. There is zero evidence of electoral fraud that helped President Biden. The Arizona audit that Trump is obsessing about is considered a bad partisan joke outside of OAN viewers. There is no legal mechanism whereby Trump would return to power in August.
In March, I concluded:
As president, Trump was always a potent agent of chaos. As a former president, Trump is a celebrity trying to keep his name in the news because that has always been the only way he understands his self-worth.This does not mean Trump will not be a potent force in GOP politics over the next four years. Like an overexcited toddler, however, Trump’s primary power is to destroy rather than create.
So far, that assessment is holding up. Beyond Trump’s failed blog, social media ostracization and delusions of a return to power, Annie Karni and Haberman’s latest New York Times story describes a political operation that is borderline pathetic:
His political operation has also dwindled to a ragtag team of former advisers who are still on his payroll, reminiscent of the bare-bones cast of characters that helped lift a political neophyte to his unlikely victory in 2016. Most of them go days or weeks without interacting with Mr. Trump in person....Some of his aides are not eager to engage with him on his conspiracy theories and would like to see him press a forward-looking agenda that could help Republicans in 2022. People in his circle joke that the most senior adviser to the former leader of the free world is Christina Bobb, a correspondent with the far-right, eternally pro-Trump One America News Network, whom he consults regularly for information about the Arizona election audit.
Having used the word “pathetic” a lot in this column, however, I have two reasons Trump’s shenanigans and toddler-like behavior merit attention.
The first, slightly less persuasive reason is that Trump has defied the political odds before and won in 2016, so maybe it will work again. Although true, it overlooks the fact that under his leadership the GOP subsequently lost the House, the presidency and then the Senate. He has lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton and then to Biden, neither of whom was viewed as an electoral juggernaut when they ran. His current stump speech offers no vision, only his grievances. His political career is tracking his real estate career: illusory images of success followed by a declaration of bankruptcy.
The more persuasive reason is that the GOP has made its choice, and its choice is to back Trump no matter how absurd his claims. As USA Today’s Mathew Brown notes, state and local Republican parties are moving in lockstep with Mar-a-Lago: “From espousing his discredited election conspiracy theories to threatening to secede, state and local officials are increasingly leaving aside community issues to reflect Trump’s ongoing hold of the national GOP.”
Trump’s own advisers are treating him exactly as his White House staff always treated him: like an all-powerful toddler who needs to be appeased. The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer and Asawin Suebsaeng found two confidants who confirmed Trump’s August delusions. They also note that “both of these sources said they decided not to tell the former president what they were thinking, which is that it’s not going to happen.” A follow-up story reveals similar levels of fecklessness among his political advisers.
In the end, Trump matters because he is the de facto leader of one of the two major political parties. The rest of the GOP has signaled that it will put Trump before anything else, including family. Even if he is alienating more people than he is attracting, there is a decent chance that the GOP will win in 2022 and then 2024.
So, yes, attention must be paid to Trump. One can hope that this attention morphs into something akin to watching end-of-career Mike Tyson, the guy who entertains but keeps losing in the ring. One must prepare for a worse outcome.