In The Sound of Music, the nuns sing, “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” when they are at loose ends over what to do about their sister who just doesn’t fit into their world. Tuesday morning, political observers are experiencing a similar loss for words over the tweets from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, whose latest onslaught targets a new enemy: Republicans. How do Republicans solve a problem like Trump?
Starting with taking aim at House Speaker and current highest-ranked Republican official Paul Ryan on Tuesday, and ultimately calling the entire GOP disloyal, Trump tweeted, “Disloyal R's are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary.” This isn’t to say that a fourth-quarter twist wasn’t expected from the wild card candidate, but it nevertheless becomes difficult to figure out just what exactly is going on under the golden cloud that floats over his head everywhere he goes.
A close reading of the tweets reveals a confused and contradictory strategy. Indeed, it seems that when Trump claims, “They come at you from all sides,” he believes this literally and is responding by attacking in all directions. But let’s try to make sense of it anyway. Here are my three best guesses as to what is happening inside the head of man who would be president.
Trump Is Trying To Shame (And Maybe Scare) The Republicans Into Being Loyal
This was my best guess at divining how Trump would think his latest move would help him win the election — that somehow, he could scare them into line by calling them out. But the argument falls apart almost as soon as you pick it up. Clearly, the mass Trump defections by prominent Republicans mean that they are more afraid for their political futures (or maybe just their mortal futures) than they are of being painted as disloyal by Trump. And as Trump’s poll numbers continue to head south, the threat of political reprisal from a President Trump becomes less scary.
Trump Is Trying To Shore Up Allegiance From His Die-Hards For His Post-Election Plans
When Trump brought on Breitbart’s Steve Bannon in August to serve as his campaign CEO, at a time when his numbers were in the toilet, many speculated that his long-term plan was to capitalize on the passion of his adherents by starting his own alt-right TV network. Among the speculators was former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro, who told The Washington Post, "They’ll turn the campaign into a news network.” Such speculation has not been confirmed at all by Trump or his campaign.
Still, tongues have been wagging over this rumor. Bannon is famous for his dislike of the establishment GOP, and Trump’s recent tweets seemed geared directly toward that portion of the political right. While this saves Trump from seeming completely irrational, it’s a pretty extreme gambit, and one that requires him to admit he’s going to lose. And if there’s one thing we know about Trump, it’s that he hates a loser.
Trump Is Inexplicably Cutting His Nose To Spite His Face
This is the only explanation that really explains the full range of the contradictions in the latest volley of attacks. By turning Republicans into the enemy — and really, distancing himself from his own party — he’s essentially cutting off his nose to spite his face.
In the end, the best way to solve the question of Trump is to work backwards from what he’s trying to accomplish. Is he still trying to win the general election? Looks dubious. Is he trying to secure an audience for a post-election media endeavor? Plausible, but not really his style. Or is he simply trying to protect his fragile ego? That sounds more like it.
To go back to the nuns, the real answer to “How do you solve a problem like Maria” is that you don’t. The question is rhetorical. “How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?” You can’t. Maria is Maria — and maybe even moreso, Trump is, only and always, Trump.