How Clinton Got Inside Trump’s Head

In writing about last night’s debate, Josh Marshall made an important point about Hillary Clinton’s performance.

As I said last night, her answer-ending asides and bemused taunts had him getting angry within 15 minutes. By 30 minutes in, she was dominating the debate. Sure, he attacked here and there. He was louder. He interrupted more. But he was always responding to her. She had him on the ropes. She was setting the tone and the terms. And the fact that he could feel it made him angrier, more impulsive and more unable to sustain any kind of consistent message that would help him in political terms.

This is getting lost with some people. Sure he was bad. But she was at least as good as he was bad. And the quality of her performance made him much worse.

This was no accident. A couple of days ago, Abby Phillips wrote that Clinton’s debate prep wasn’t simply focused on ensuring that she had facts and information at her fingertips.

As Hillary Clinton prepared to face the most unconventional candidate of her political career on the debate stage Monday night, her campaign aides engaged in a deep study of Donald Trump’s personality to glean insights into how he might act, according to several people familiar with the process.

Phillips’ sources weren’t willing to discuss the particulars about their study of Trump’s personality, but it is obvious from the outcome that they pretty well nailed it. On the second question Clinton faced, she included in her remarks something that was guaranteed to set him off.

We just have a different view about what’s best for growing the economy, how we make investments that will actually produce jobs and rising incomes.

I think we come at it from somewhat different perspectives. I understand that. You know, Donald was very fortunate in his life, and that’s all to his benefit. He started his business with $14 million, borrowed from his father, and he really believes that the more you help wealthy people, the better off we’ll be and that everything will work out from there.

The point of that wasn’t to engage Trump in a discussion about trickle-down economics. It was to get under his skin about having inherited his wealth rather than being the brilliant business man who earned it. And it worked! Clinton subtly did that kind of thing over and over again. That’s how she had him on the ropes all night.

I’ll go back to something Marshall wrote a few weeks ago to explain what it is the Clinton campaign had learned about Trump’s personality.

Trump lives in a psychic economy of aggression and domination. There are dominators and the dominated. No in between. Every attack he receives, every ego injury must be answered, rebalanced with some new aggression to reassert dominance. These efforts are often wildly self-destructive.

Throughout the 90 minute debate, Trump’s habit of interrupting and flailing around were his attempt to regain dominance aggressively. He can’t stop himself.

The salient fact about Trump isn’t his cruelty or penchant for aggression and violence. It’s his inability to control urges and drives most people gain control over very early in life…What is true with Trump is what every critic has been saying for a year: the most obvious and contrived provocation can goad this thin skinned charlatan into a wild outburst. He’s a seventy year old man with children and grandchildren and he has no self-control.

Think about that for a moment:

This guy, who wants to be President of the United States, can’t even hold it together for 90 minutes in a debate. It’s not that he has so little self control. It’s that he has none. Do you imagine for a minute that Hillary Clinton is the only one who can figure that out and use it against him? That is just one more yuuuggge reason why he is unfit for the office he seeks.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .