Donald Trump is not a complicated man.
He hates losing, but what he fears most is irrelevance. Trump grasps so relentlessly and desperately for the spotlight because he is haunted by the possibility that he might be … ignored.
Not one of his MAGA loyalists followed his lead on McCarthy that day, or the next.
Which means this was a very bad week for the brooding ex-president in exile. And it extends a yearslong losing streak that may finally have broken his hold on the GOP.
Some really good conversations took place last night, and it’s now time for all of our GREAT Republican House Members to VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY, & WATCH CRAZY NANCY PELOSI FLY BACK HOME TO A VERY BROKEN CALIFORNIA,THE ONLY SPEAKER IN U.S. HISTORY TO HAVE LOST THE “HOUSE” TWICE! REPUBLICANS, DO NOT TURN A GREAT TRIUMPH INTO A GIANT & EMBARRASSING DEFEAT. IT’S TIME TO CELEBRATE, YOU DESERVE IT. Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB — JUST WATCH!
But nothing happened. He did not move a single vote. Not one of his MAGA loyalists followed his lead on McCarthy that day, or the next. Indeed, it would take until the early hours of Saturday morning for McCarthy to finally drag himself across the speakership finish line.
For Trump, this should have been the lowest of low hanging fruit. These were his people. One of his super powers has always been his ability to anticipate the id of his base. But this week, his base ignored him.
Uber-loyalist Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida actually mocked him. “Sad!” Gaetz said in a statement to Fox. “This changes neither my view of McCarthy nor Trump nor my vote.”
On the House floor, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado pushed back as well. “Let’s stop with the campaign smears and tactics to get people to turn against us — even having my favorite president call us and tell us we need to knock this off,” Boebert said from the House floor. “I think it actually needs to be reversed; the president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that, ‘Sir, you do not have the votes, and it’s time to withdraw.’” (Gaetz finally voted for McCarthy around midnight on Friday; Boebert never gave in.)
But that wasn’t the worst moment for Trump — at all. Following through on a previous pledge, Gaetz also nominated Trump for speaker on Thursday. But on the day before the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, the former president got only a single vote.
And members in the chamber started laughing.
No one seemed afraid of him anymore. Said longtime Republican strategist Scott Reed: “Trump’s fear factor has dropped this week, like a rock.”
The display of Trump’s shrunken clout drips with historical irony. He did not, of course, start the fire that is now consuming the GOP, but he thought he could control it. In many ways, as Molly Jong Fast observed, this week’s chaos is “peak Trumpism.” The anarchy and recklessness was an especially graphic symbol of “the performative nature of today’s Trumpified party.”
But Trump’s fizzled endorsement, Maggie Haberman and Michael C. Bender wrote in The New York Times, is “a reminder that the insurgency in Congress isn’t so much a creature of his creation but a force that predated him and helped fuel his political rise.”
Trump thought that he was the master of the crocodile he had nurtured and grown, and that had devoured so many of his GOP foes.
Trump thought that he was the master of the crocodile he had nurtured and grown, and that had devoured so many of his GOP foes. Trump never imagined that it would turn on him. Or ignore him.
But this is the problem with perpetual outrage movements. They can be easily stoked and exploited, but they are almost impossible to shut down, because their appetite for anger, anarchy and chaos is bottomless. And if they can’t find sufficient targets of outrage on the outside, they inevitably turn against one another. As I wrote in the Bulwark this week, the MAGA movement’s only real connective tissue was anger, self-promotion, grift and cultish fluffery. Take away the cult leader and you get the chaos we saw this week, as crackpots fought with nihilists, wingnuts pointed fingers at extremists and grifters started slap-fights with one another.
Trumpism had slipped the surly bonds of Trump himself.
None of this means that Trump will fade away. He will spin any outcome in the speaker’s race as a win for himself. And he remains the front-running candidate for the Republican nomination.
But it’s impossible not to notice how much smaller he seems these days.
The man who hates to lose has made a habit of losing. He lost the presidency and the Senate. In 2021, Trump tried to oust Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, and failed. Across the country many of his loyalists — from Kari Lake in Arizona to Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania — flopped in the midterms. In December, he railed against the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill, and Senate Republicans ignored him.
And then there is his no-mentum 2024 presidential campaign, a sad and pathetic affair that inspired Olivia Nuzzi’s profile comparing Trump to an aging, irrelevant film star.
Not surprisingly, Trump hated being compared to Norma Desmond, the character played by Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard.” But it turns out that “Sunset Boulevard” is one of Trump’s favorite movies, which he watches obsessively. This week, like Norma Desmond, he announced that he was ready for yet another close-up.
And nobody cared.