There was an article in the days before the 2016 election that described Trump, sitting on his plane, watching the coverage of the race and saying only “I’m going to win.”
That phrase – I’m going to win – seemed to me like the main motivator for Trump. It was the winning that interested him. The role of president, the opportunity to serve, the responsibility to the American people, even the power were all secondary to winning. He is a trophy collector and he believed that the White House was the ultimate trophy.
Four years later, he still doesn’t care about the work or the responsibility of the job. That has been made abundantly clear by his utter failure to engage in stopping a pandemic from killing our populace. I do think Trump has developed a taste for the power of the presidency, especially the parts that translate into dollars or accolades. However, I think the winning is still the driving force for him. The need to be a winner is hardwired into his sense of self like no other impulse.
The fear of losing, of being a loser, and having to admit it is the impetus behind everything Trump is doing and saying right now. I believe when he envisions a loss on November 3, Trump doesn’t think about how it will feel to turn over the reins of the country. He won’t feel regret about things left undone. He just doesn’t want to be the loser in a contest or give up a prize he believes he deserves.
That idea of “presidency as prize” is the reason he has been so bad at the job. The substance of it never occurred to him. He is not a student of history or government and he has no innate drive to be a public servant. He wanted it like he wanted a golf trophy. A shiny object, something he could show off to others whom he wanted to impress. Unfortunately, “others” ended up meaning Putin. That’s who he wants to impress and also who he wants to emulate. An unquestioned leader who gets his way simply by virtue of holding the title
Today, four years since he got the win he wanted in 2016, Trump has come to believe that the trophy of the presidency is his by right. In some ways, I think he is genuinely surprised that someone is trying to take it from him. Democratic and meritocratic principles have never applied to him before and he is shocked that they might apply to him now. The result is that he sees the election as an attempt by Biden to steal something to which he is unquestionably entitled. He wants to keep his shiny object. He wants to say he is the reigning champion of elections.
In Trump’s mind, his efforts to suppress votes, challenge voting results, and bully officials into granting him a victory don’t equal cheating in an election. He sees it as a way to keep something that is rightfully his. He doesn’t believe he is wrong; he believes we who would vote against him are wrong for taking away his hard-won presidency. He is not stealing the election; the election, the victory, should be his by fiat. In his view, his opponents are stealing all of that from him.
Other have suggested to me he fears that he will face legal consequences if he returns to the ranks of average citizens. I’m not convinced that really haunts him. He has been running afoul of the law for his entire career and has never faced consequences. Why should be believe that he might face them now? I suspect that in his darkest moments he isn’t thinking that he will lose an election and go to jail. He is only thinking that people might call him a loser and that is more than he can bear.
This is all why he is so hellbent on winning this election. It’s not the power or the glory that motivates him. It’s not even the concern that his lawbreaking will catch up to him at long last. It’s his sense of entitlement and his desire to win things that is driving him. He will throw any elbow into any face to win this game, even going so far so throw an elbow into the face of democracy itself.