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Analysis

Bizarre US campaign is getting weirder

Mental health and the Republican nominee

by Darrell Delamaide in Washington

Sat 13 Aug 2016

The most bizarre US presidential campaign in modern times has got weirder, with media openly questioning the mental health of Republican nominee Donald Trump and senior members of his own party labelling him a threat to international stability.

The word ‘crazy’ has been appearing in headlines not as a political metaphor but as a clinical description. Trump has been declared unfit for office not only by Democrats but by many top Republicans as well.

Eugene Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, wrote in the Washington Post that he gave Trump the benefit of the doubt during the primary contests in which he vanquished 16 opponents, thinking the real estate mogul was ‘crazy like a fox.’ Now, Robinson opines, ‘I am increasingly convinced he is just plain crazy.’

Experts appeared on television to aver that, if not actually insane, Trump suffers from severe personality disorder. The 12 symptoms identified by the American Psychiatric Association for diagnosing narcissistic personality disorder were widely discussed because virtually all of them – ‘having an exaggerated sense of self-importance,’ ‘exaggerating your achievements and talents,’ ‘requiring constant admiration,’ and so on – fit Trump to a T.

It is against this backdrop that 50 senior security officials from the Republican Party issued a statement this month warning that Trump ‘would be the most reckless president in American history'.

Not only does he lack understanding of the country’s national interests, its complex challenges, alliances and values, the signatories wrote, but ‘he lacks self-control and acts impetuously’ and ‘he cannot tolerate personal criticism'.

The Republican officials included Michael Hayden, a former CIA director; Robert Zoellick, former US trade representative and World Bank president; and Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, former secretaries of homeland security.

All of the officials served in senior national security or foreign policy positions in Republican administrations from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush.

Trump shot back that many of the signatories were the architects of the Iraq invasion, which he has lambasted as one of the biggest political and military blunders in US history.

Also, as the New York Times noted, many of the party’s heavy foreign policy hitters, including five living former secretaries of state (Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, James Baker, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice), were not signatories.

Trump’s erratic behaviour, which often seems petty and vindictive, has led Republican elected officials to break with him as well.

Susan Collins, a Maine senator who is the closest thing to a centrist Republican there is in Congress, wrote in the Washington Post that she would not vote for Trump.

‘Rejecting the conventions of political correctness is different from showing complete disregard for common decency,’ she wrote. She cited Trump’s mockery of a reporter with disabilities, his insistence that an American-born judge of Mexican heritage would not treat him fairly in a lawsuit, and his disparagement of the Muslim parents of a fallen US soldier as the main examples of how Trump ‘does not reflect historical Republican values.’

In addition, she said, she is ‘deeply concerned that Mr Trump’s lack of self-restraint and his barrage of ill-informed comments would make an already perilous world even more so'.

The Real Clear Politics average of polls for the general election contest between Trump and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, has gone from a Trump lead of more than a point in late July to a Clinton lead of nearly 7 points.

Still more striking, Trump has lost significant ground in the so-called ‘battleground states’ he needs to win to get the majority in the Electoral College that actually decides who will be president.

Party officials have urged the Republican national committee to divert its funds from supporting Trump to aiding down-ballot candidates for Congress to preserve the party’s majorities in the House and Senate.

For the moment, Republican leaders are reluctant to repudiate Trump for fear of alienating the 40% of the electorate that still support him in the polls.

There has been talk of replacing him at the top of the ticket. But that would be possible only if he voluntarily withdraws, because there is no mechanism for ejecting him.

Such a late replacement would be unprecedented. Yet, in a race that has been full of unexpected fluctuations, it is impossible to rule out that possibility.

Equally, it is hard to predict whether Trump’s compelling electoral message of a US economy gone off the rails to the detriment of the working class will ultimately outweigh his personality flaws. Clinton, who also has a highly negative rating, may be benefiting from a string of gaffes – but there is room for many more twists and turns between now and 8 November.

Darrell Delamaide is a writer and editor based in Washington and a Member of the OMFIF Advisory Board. This forms part of OMFIF’s series of commentaries on the US presidential election on 8 November.

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