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Trump toys with hubris

When political campaigns become overconfident, they start to make errors

March 9, 2020

3:25 PM

9 March 2020

3:25 PM

‘Hubris is one of the great renewable resources,’  said P.J. O’Rourke, and American politicians have a habit of proving him right.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton became hubristic. ‘Happy Birthday to this future president,’ she (or one of her minions) tweeted, famously, on October 26 that year. Barack Obama also stupidly ignored the ancient wisdom and invited nemesis. ‘At least I will go down as a president,’ he taunted Trump on TV, just a few weeks before Donald Trump won the election. What foolish pride!

In 2020, however, it is the Republicans, not the Democrats, who seem to be tempting fate. Trump always toys with excessive arrogance and has a habit of getting away with it. But there are signs that his campaign is starting to reach a level of overconfidence that almost always presages some form of collapse.

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His spokespeople are starting to talk as if the election is over before it has properly begun. They are quick to dismiss Joe Biden as a hopeless, mad candidate — forgetting that everybody said the same about Donald Trump in 2016. Dan Scavino and the Keep America Great 2020 social media machine have taken to tweeting clips of doddery old Biden saying stupid stuff. It’s all very funny for now but after a while it might start to look like bullying, which is even less attractive to many voters than senility. Scavino has even started using the hashtag ‘#LandslideVictory’, a slogan Trump has retweeted. That kind of pride almost begs for a fall.

This isn’t just superstition. When political campaigns become overconfident, they start to make errors. Trump’s rash tweeting today about the impact of coronavirus suggests his often brilliant unpredictability is now being replaced by a kind of haughty rashness. Scavino produced that tweet of Trump playing the violin, with the caption, ‘My next piece is called nothing can stop what’s coming’, a bizarre message which Trump promptly retweeted saying ‘who knows what this means, but is sounds good to me!’

Is that trolling? No doubt Team Trump will look at the outraged reactions and say their man has done it again — he’s making the world go crazy while he just keeps winning.

But with a global panic about the coronavirus spreading fast to America, it might be the wrong tone. Trump’s frantic tweeting about Fake News damaging the economy the next day suggests he may be starting to feel the heat. He has described himself as ‘a very superstitious person’. His former campaign managers Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie have described how Trump would go to enormous lengths to avoid ‘bad juju.’ In their book, Let Trump Be Trump, they said:

‘We were never allowed to talk about what a Trump White House would look like, never mind plan for one…we were never allowed to celebrate before a win was certain, and we always had to take our losses with grace. Anything else and you’d invite in some bad juju…it’s the reason that come election night we didn’t have a victory speech — or a concession speech — written ahead of time.’

Tweeting about a landslide victory suggests the Trump of 2020 may have forgotten his rules. More fool him.


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