But these two possibilities — a tendency toward self-sabotage and an overweening self-confidence — are actually not in conflict at all. The missing piece is the element of blame. Trump wants to lose — but he wants the loss to be someone else’s fault. And he doesn’t care if the object of scorn is the media, the Republican Party establishment, or the country’s political establishment as a whole. All that matters is that his followers believe they, and he, have been robbed. Even if the resulting righteous indignation provokes political violence.
Two months ago my colleague Noah Millman pointed to precisely this kind of psychological dynamic in trying to figure out why Trump, shortly following his resounding triumph in the Republican primaries, chose to spend a week lashing out at Judge Gonzalo Curiel in racially charged terms when it had nothing whatsoever to do with his campaign for president and appeared to do that campaign nothing but harm. Millman’s suggestion? The Trump University lawsuit wasn’t going well, so Trump decided to throw anything and everything at the judge in the hopes that one of the accusations — the judge is a racist! — might stick and create an excuse to explain what would otherwise be a humiliating defeat.
Trump will do absolutely anything to avoid taking the blame for own failures, even (and perhaps especially) when his own actions rightly deserve the blame. And he couldn’t care less about the civically ruinous consequences.