On Sunday night, some of the women who have long accused Bill Clinton of sexually assaulting them sat in the audience for the second presidential debate as guests of Donald Trump, who beforehand held a press conference so they could repeat their claims. It was, if nothing else, a dramatic bit of political theater that had many of Trump’s supporters arguing Hillary Clinton had helped cover up her husband’s misdeeds and shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the White House.
By Thursday, the script had completely flipped. A number of women had stepped forward to accuse Trump of assaulting them — not just with “words,” as Trump had tried to explain away his lewd comments about women from a hot-mic moment in 2005, but with actual “actions,” as he’d accused Bill Clinton of committing. The response from Trump, who days earlier had urged Americans to believe Bill’s accusers? That they were “horrible liars” who had invented “pure fiction” to smear him.
How does a man pull such a 180-degree turn in such a short time? If you’ve been paying attention to this long and, mercifully, almost finished presidential campaign, you know it’s not the first time. Trump has changed his position dozens of times on almost two dozen issues, according to this tally from NBC News (which probably needs updating, since it’s nearly three months old). If you think you know what Trump would actually do as president, you must be a psychic.
Nor is it possible to know what Trump will say or do next. But I have found a way to understand what Trump says or does by viewing it through a series of three lenses. And now I’ll share them with you:
- First, last and always, Trump is about himself and only himself. Not his wife, his kids, his employees, his shareholders, his bondholders, the Republican Party, the United States of America — and certainly, dear voter, not you. He is in this, like everything else, for his own benefit and/or amusement.
- Trump wakes up every day asking himself, what do I need to say or do to make sure everyone is talking about me by the end of the day? If you’ve ever wondered why Trump goes out of his way to make news even when it hurts his candidacy by overshadowing bad news about Hillary — and even gone as far as to wonder whether he does it because he’s secretly trying to get her elected — there’s a simple answer. He’s a narcissist (see above) whose self-absorption and insecurities make him crave the spotlight. There’s no conspiracy, and certainly no strategy here. Trump just wants the attention.
- Trump doesn’t actually believe anything. This is why he can say one day that he’ll build a wall on the southern border and deport all illegal immigrants, say months later that he’ll do nothing different than past presidents, and say five days after that that he’ll begin deportations within an hour of being sworn in. There’s no consistency because he doesn’t believe any of it. He’s just saying whatever strikes him in the moment as the thing he ought to say.
Once you view everything he says and does through those lenses, there’s a certain logic to it. Which is not to say his words and actions become agreeable, just that they’re less bewildering to behold.
This is why I still won’t support or vote for him, even in the face of questions about Supreme Court appointments, Hillary’s awful tax-and-spend plans, and the rest. I have zero reason to think I know what he would do as president, or to believe he would do anything I actually agree with. But I have plenty of reasons to believe his obviously bad instincts and inability to take heed of others’ advice for sustained periods of time would lead us down a different, but equally bad, path.