Will Trump Quit the Race?

Even his most ardent foes agree that Trump is not stupid and that he is a relentless fighter. Based on what flimsy evidence? His own repeated and vociferous reassurances, of course. Yet, when we apply the cold instruments of psychology to both boasts, they appear to be decidedly shaky.

(I will dispense with his claim that he is intelligent by referring the reader to the incredible transcripts of his recent interviews with the New York Times and the Washington Post. As he emerges from these painful exchanges, he makes Sarah Palin look like a towering intellect by comparison. Scoring well in all manner of IQ tests requires an endowed vocabulary, an awareness and knowledge of current affairs — which indicates curiosity, a pillar and hallmark of intelligence — and analytic skills. Trump demonstrates not a hint of these three.)

His second attempt at self-portrayal as a dauntless warrior merits much deeper study.

Start with the facts: Trump is a quintessential quitter. He had quit marriages, business deals, enterprises, and campaigns. When things get rough, he reflexively abandons ship. He is labile, desultorily hopping from one harebrained scheme to another, one romantic union to its successor, one burst of self-promotion to a spectacular, implosive feat of self-destruction. Indeed, this is his brand: a feckless, reckless, daring, unpredictable, vicissitudinal Trump with a capital “T.”

against-trumpTrump is taking a lot of flak, heat, criticism, and mockery from his reference group: the people whose opinions he values, whose club he wants to join, to whom he wishes fervently to belong, and by whom he dreams to be finally and unconditionally accepted and respected. I am not talking about his mindless supporters and fans whose dreary lives he probably abhors and whose unthinking loyalty inspires in him only profound contempt. No, he aspires to be counted among the very people that he constantly denigrates, belittles, and humiliates: eggheads, pundits, accredited public intellectuals, analysts, the elites, his father. Indeed, their rejection of him is the trigger for his unbridled wrath. Hell hath no fury like a narcissist scorned.

Trump feels entitled to be admired, adulated, specially and exceptionally treated, and revered (he compulsively seeks “narcissistic supply”). Instead, he is mocked and insulted (he garners “negative supply”). These massive and recurrent narcissistic injuries may well be enough to put him off and, thus, derail his quest for the nomination. Faced with deficient narcissistic supply in their chosen Pathological Narcissistic Space (their stomping grounds, their “kingdom”) narcissists disengage and move on as swiftly and as decisively as circumstances permit. Trump is no exception. But he is so invested in his grandiosely fantastic self-image, that he is likely to go through decompensation and acting out.

What are these?

In extremis, when all the narcissist’s default behaviors, charm, stratagems, and solutions fail, or when only negative, fake, low-grade, and static narcissistic supply is to be had, the narcissist “falls apart” in a process of disintegration known as decompensation (the inability to maintain psychological defenses in the face of mounting stress). This is accompanied by “acting out”: when an inner conflict (most often, frustration) translates into aggression. It involves acting with little or no insight or reflection and in order to attract attention and disrupt other people’s cozy lives.

The dynamic forces which render the narcissist paralysed and fake – his vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and fears – are starkly exposed as his defenses crumble and become dysfunctional. The narcissist’s extreme dependence on his social milieu for the regulation of his sense of self-worth is painfully and pitifully evident as he is reduced to begging, threatening, and cajoling.

At such times, the narcissist acts out self-destructively and anti-socially. His mask of superior equanimity is pierced by displays of impotent rage, self-loathing, self-pity, passive-aggressiveness, and crass attempts at manipulation of his friends, family, and colleagues – or the public comprised of his disaffected and outraged acolytes. His ostensible benevolence and caring evaporate. He feels caged and threatened and he reacts as any animal would do: by striking back at his perceived tormentors as well as at his hitherto “nearest” and “dearest.”

But, if Trump is, as I suggested, a malignant narcissist, how could he possibly justify withdrawing from the race at this late stage, having promised so much to so many? Isn’t he emotionally invested in winning?

Narcissists rationalize their actions. Rationalization is a psychological defense mechanism. It is intended to cast one’s behavior after the fact in a favorable light. To justify and explain one’s conduct or, more often, misconduct by resorting to “rational, logical, socially-acceptable” explications and excuses. Rationalization is also used to re-establish ego-syntony (inner peace and self-acceptance).

Cognitive dissonance – the state of having simultaneous and equipotent but inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes – usually provokes rationalization. It involves speech acts which amount to the devaluation of things and people very much desired or perceived positively but frustratingly out of one’s reach and control or socially deemed unacceptable. In a famous fable, a fox, unable to snag the luscious grapes he covets, says: “these grapes are probably sour anyhow!” This is an example of cognitive dissonance in action.

Trump is likely to use three lines of defensive reasoning:

  1. They don’t deserve me. I am much ahead of my time, perspicacious, and sage. People are just not ready for me. History will vindicate me; and/or
  2. I am quitting the race in order to protect my family and heal the wounds of the nation; and/or
  3. I have proved what I wanted to prove (whatever that may be). No need for me to continue to waste my time and resources. I have better things to do.

We can all only wish.

Sam Vaknin is the author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited” and other books on personality disorders, including “Narcissistic and Psychopathic Leaders.” His work is widely cited in both scholarly literature and the popular media. His YouTube channel is here.


  1. Perhaps Donald Trump will simply continue to kill his candidacy by a thousand cuts, despite his “Teflon” armor. It seems semi-conscious. “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways….”

  2. Arlen Williams says

    “Is Trump Catching Ross Perot Disease?” Dick Morris, DickMorris.com, April 1, 2016

    As pressure mounts on Donald Trump, he makes one mistake after another. Politico.com recently headlined that Trump had endured/caused “24 hours of mayhem.”

    Within that time period, he proposed punishing women for having illegal abortions, defended his campaign manager for so abusing a reporter that he was arrested for assault, reneged on his pledge to back the ultimate GOP nominee, suggested that Japan and South Korea should get the bomb, called NATO “obsolete, “and condemned the Geneva Convention. Politico reports that this rash of incendiary statements left GOP leaders “stupefied.”


  3. I want to set the record straight about Trump’s exchange with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that brought down the wrath of all who thought they heard it. Here’s a brilliant analysis by Chris Aubert, an attorney and talk host on Immaculate Heart Radio: ihrarchive.org/archive/AUBERT2-20160331.mp3 I know Cruz will understand what the trogs are trying to do to both he and Trump.

  4. Wow—Trump admits when he misspeaks and makes mistakes. He will readily redirect. He is not a politician–he is a businessman and has not learned the art of political speak.

    Personally I think Cruz is the narcissist. His followers refer to him as the “Anointed one” or the “Chosen One” which I find disgusting and creepy. He is arrogant in his brilliance.

    Politifact did an article and found he told the truth only 6% of the time. He is “Lyin’ Ted Cruz”—

    Trump is making mistakes however no other candidate is being assaulted from every direction like Trump. Anyone following up on Ted Cruz and his failure to disclose Goldman Sachs or Citibank documents yet demands Donald release his taxes. Hypocrisy???

    • I see many comments from Cruz supporters and have not found them to declare him the Messiah. Also, I’m not familiar with any “6%” from Politifact about him. I’d like to see you reference what you purport. I am familiar with a 7X% false tally for Donald Trump, however.

  5. Arlen Williams says

    Remember when Trump used to say peculiar things that actually made him more popular?

    Japan, South Korea hit back at Trump comments

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