In the now distant 2016 Republican presidential primaries, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas won the Iowa caucuses. This was determined by a method that was recently attacked but at the time considered standard: elementary mathematics.
One of Iowa’s losers, developer and TV personality Donald J. Trump, quickly accused Mr. Cruz of electoral theft. He launched several inflammatory tweets, including this foreshadowing of our current moment of testing democracy: “Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz’s results canceled.
The episode disappeared in the coming tsunami of political vitriol during the Trump presidency. Yet it does reflect what those who have worked with Mr. Trump say is his modus operandi in trying to slip the humiliating epithet he has so easily applied to others.
“The first thing he calls someone who wronged him is a loser,” said Jack O’Donnell, who ran an Atlantic City casino for Mr. Trump in the 1980s. his main attacking word. The worst thing in his world would be to be a loser. To avoid being called a loser, he’ll do or say anything.
Over the course of his long career, he’s spun, cajoled, and attacked – in the press, in lawsuits and lately, of course, on Twitter – whenever he was faced with appearing only as the superlative of the moment: the bigger, the smarter, the healthier, the better. It has sometimes required bold attempts to turn a negative into a positive, often saying something over and over again until it displaces the truth or exhausts the audience in surrender.
It is common knowledge that Mr. Trump has been a loser in many business ventures (Trump Steaks, anyone?). In fact, his greatest success did not stem from real estate, but from the creation of a popular alternate reality television character – Donald Trump, master of the boardroom – which he ultimately led to the White House. .
But his notorious aversion to the loser label has now reached its apotheosis.
Since Joseph R. Biden Jr. was declared the winner of the November 3 election – and therefore Mr. Trump declared the loser – the president has repeatedly tampered with baseless allegations of a fraudulent and corrupt electoral process. What was once seen as the bizarre trait of a self-involved New York developer has become an international embarrassment, almost upsetting the sacred transition of power and leaving the world’s most advanced democracy – struggling with a deadly pandemic and a faltering economy – with a leader refusing to concede despite basic math.
“AND I WON THE ELECTION,” Mr. Trump tweeted last week. “ELECTORAL FRAUD IN THE COUNTRY.”
On Monday, the Trump administration finally authorized a transition process delayed by several weeks after Michigan certified Mr. Biden as its winner. Still, Mr. Trump continued to take legal action and tweet about the fraud and challenge resolution.
“Our case continues STRONG, we will continue the good fight.”
“It was a landslide!”
And for Thanksgiving: “I just saw the vote tabulations. There is no way Biden got 80,000,000 votes !!! It was a 100% RIGGED ELECTION. “
The president’s tweets have succeeded in casting doubt on the fundamental foundations of the republic among his millions of followers. In a recent Reuters / Ipsos poll, about half of Republicans polled believed Mr. Trump had “rightly won” re-election, and 68% expressed concern that the election was “rigged”.
Such behavior by the President reflects an approach to life in binary code that leaves no room for nuance or complication. If a person is not one, then that person is a zero.
“You are either a winner or a loser,” Michael D. Cohen, former lawyer and Mr. Trump’s repairman, said in an interview last week. “Reality is secondary. It’s all about perception. “
Mr. Cohen, who was convicted in 2018 of tax evasion and campaign finance violations and who has since become a vocal critic of the President, provided several examples in his recent book, “Disloyal: A Memoir.”
Mr. Cohen recounted how, in 2014, CNBC was preparing a survey of the 25 most influential people in the world. Mr. Trump, who initially ranked 187th out of 200, ordered Mr. Cohen to improve his position.
“Just make sure you put me in the top 10,” Mr. Trump said, according to Mr. Cohen.
Mr. Cohen hired someone to assess the options. After this person determined that the poll could be manipulated, $ 15,000 was spent buying discrete IP addresses through which votes for Mr. Trump could be cast. The system worked, with Mr. Trump elevated to ninth place when all the votes were counted.
“Before long, Trump believed he was really ranked in the top 10 and considered a deeply important business figure,” Cohen wrote.
But CNBC removed Mr. Trump from the list without providing an explanation. The furious future president ordered Mr Cohen to get the network to change course. It failed. He then ordered him to run a story in the media about “the terrible treatment Trump received from CNBC.” It also failed.
Still, Mr. Trump managed to exploit the false ranking before he was taken off the list. “He had made hundreds of copies and he added the poll to the pile of newspaper clippings and magazine profiles of himself that he would give to visitors,” Mr. Cohen wrote.
This fear of being seen as somehow less than the best is a recurring theme in the mountains of books and articles written about Mr. Trump. Many observers of the history of the Trump family have reflected on the influence of the patriarch, developer Fred C. Trump, who had his own version of humanity’s binary taxonomy: the strong and the weak.
Mr Trump took a look at this in his book ‘Trump: The Art of the Deal’, in which he recalled gluing the blocks of his younger brother, Robert, thus ensuring that he would not be no slouch in a competition involving blocks.
“It was the end of Robert’s blocks,” he wrote.
An adult version of this episode came at a turning point in the man’s career: the opening of his Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City in 1990.
According to Mr. O’Donnell, who was deeply involved in the business, Mr. Trump pushed for opening the casino prematurely because he feared the shame a delay would entail after promising the world a glitzy, celebrity-filled opening.
The casino was not ready; among other problems, only a quarter of the slot machines were open, leaving the cavernous space calm and empty. “It was just awful,” recalls Mr. O’Donnell, who wrote a book about his experiences with the future president. “It didn’t look like a normal casino.”
Privately, Mr. Trump was furious and blamed his brother Robert for some of the problems. (The youngest Trump resigned and hasn’t spoken to his brother for years.) In public, however, Mr. Trump bragged about how awe the Taj Mahal was.
Appearing on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in April 1990, Mr. Trump said the only problem with the opening day of the Taj Mahal was too much of a success. Players played slot machines with such ferocity that the machines almost ignited.
“We had machines that – they were practically on fire,” Mr. Trump said. “No one has ever seen anything like it.”
The Taj Mahal filed for bankruptcy the following year, which left Mr. Trump’s many lenders and bondholders on the back burner.
Mr. Trump laid out his worldview in a 2014 interview with author Michael D’Antonio. “You can be tough and ruthless and everything in between, and if you lose a lot, no one will follow you because you are seen as a loser,” he said. “Winning is a very important thing. The most important aspect of leadership is winning. If you have a history of winning people will follow you. “
Mr Trump has often used the courts in an attempt to crush anyone who might question his Olympian position in wealth and success. His $ 5 billion lawsuit against journalist Timothy L. O’Brien, whose 2005 book, “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” argued that Mr. Trump was no more than $ 250 million. – that he was not, in other words, a billionaire.
Mr O’Brien reported that Mr Trump attributed the abysmal difference to envy. “You can go ahead and talk to guys who have 400-pound women at home,” Mr. Trump said, “but guys who really know me know I’m a great builder.”
The lawsuit was dismissed.
Of course, Mr. Trump’s need to be seen as a winner informed his presidency. Self-proclaimed superlatives cover everything from the “best thing that ever happened in Puerto Rico” to the most for black Americans (with the “possible exception” of Abraham Lincoln). In anticipation of his eventual impeachment, Mr. Trump has called himself “our greatest of all presidents.”
Perhaps the most famous moment in which this desire spilled over into public policy came in late 2018, when Mr. Trump took advantage of the impending government shutdown to seek funding for one of its central fixings: a wall along the Mexican border.
After Mr. Trump urged his Republican colleagues in Congress to reach a compromise, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, struck a deal to avoid a standstill and temporarily put security negotiations aside. , including a border wall.
It emerged that Mr Trump would sign the deal – that is, until conservative pundits accused the president of giving in to the Democrats, of breaking his ‘Build the Wall’ promise, of effectively being a losing.
The president turned the tide, and thus began the longest federal government shutdown in the country’s history – at an estimated cost to the economy of $ 11 billion, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
After Mr. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States in January 2017, his administration claimed the inauguration hearing was the largest ever, despite all evidence to the contrary. But any suggestion otherwise would have made Mr. Trump a loser in an imaginary contest over the size of the inaugural crowd.
Now, almost four years later, citizens have voted, baseless lawsuits alleging electoral fraud have been dismissed, and states have certified the vote. Yet the loser of the 2020 presidential election continues to see crowds the rest of the country does not.
It ends as it started.
Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire contributed reporting.