Is the Trexit Coming?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader, Scott, points to a quote from Fallows in his note about Trump denying that he’d been asked about his opposition to the Iraq War before it went sour. Fallows:

Did Trump not remember? Does he assume no one else would? Does he not even recognize the contradiction between what he’s just told Tapper and what the tapes with Cooper reveal? Does he think that if he believes what he’s saying, everyone else will too?

Scott distills that state of mind down to a Seinfeld scene:

But another reader, Chuck, a professor of psychology and computer science, suggests that Trump has even less respect for the truth than Costanza does:

I have my students read On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt, and every time I read of Trump’s loose relationship with the truth, I think of the important distinction that Frankfurt makes: Bullshit is different than lying, and more dangerous. It is not that he lies (which suggests an interest in the truth, and a public recognition that truth matters), but that he simply does not care about the truth. Trump’s claims, even the ones that by chance are true, or truthy, are still bullshit—because he claims them not because they are true, but because they are useful.

This next reader, Christopher, turns to the question that Fallows raised on Monday and readers reflected on yesterday: Could Trump be preparing an exit strategy? Christopher thinks not:

Our cover story by Dan McAdams is here to read

To think Trump is consciously looking for a way to get out of the nomination is, I think, a lot of wishful thinking. While it is true that he has said many outrageous, impolitic, and plainly false things, most have accrued to his benefit in winning the nomination, and it is only now that some are hurting his chances for the general. I don’t believe that Trump thinks there is anything that he can say that is so out of bounds that it would derail his chances. And, given how wrong all of the pundits and all of his critics have been over the last year, we shouldn’t too easily believe that this time it’s different.

If there is anything that we can know about Trump with some degree of certainty, it is that he has a huge ego; there is no lack of confidence. In his mind, demeanor, and language, he is a winner. Winners win. That’s just the way it is.

But reader Mikey believes that Trump’s huge ego and his need to be seen a winner will actually be the reasons he drops out:

Sure, on the one hand, his delusional arrogance and outsized personal pride might be sufficient to keep him in the fight through November, and just as he has a ceiling among the electorate (45%?) he certainly also has a floor. But in the same sense you could say that everything he does is based on being a winner, and holding the position of neighborhood bully. When he’s losing in the polls by 20% and it’s him that’s always fighting from a defensive crouch, will he really choose to suffer that kind of humiliation for nearly half a year?

If it was six weeks, well, that would be one thing, but even in early September, after he’s been pounded and exposed and said more damaging, desperate, ugly things, he’ll still be faced with two months of campaigning, scrutiny, media questions and debates. 

I don’t really expect it, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he suddenly came up with a “health problem” or some other fairly transparent excuse to declare victory and go home with some of his remaining fortune intact. I have no idea what the structural impacts would be—his name would still be on the ballot, and a replacement candidate would not—but chaos and madness surrounding such an outcome would be a civics lesson in extremis …

But by that point, would Trump’s “remaining fortune” and its sustainability be worth much? Reader Chris doesn’t think so, so he contends that Trump has nothing to lose at this point in the race, since his controversial campaign has wrecked his business brand:

I have been thinking about Trump’s exit strategy—Trexit—for quite a while now. At first, I thought his best strategy was to have a contested convention that he loses because of insiders. He wins the popular vote, but insider chicanery ignores the people’s voice. He looks like a hero but doesn’t actually have to govern (and presumably fail at his two primary campaign promises).

Then, I thought that, after hearing that he was losing a lot of support with his high-end business clients, this made less sense. It’d be one thing to speak to his base—we have to solve immigration problems by any means possible, we need to keep America safe by any means possible, etc.—and leverage his name recognition to take the lead and lose at an insider’s game. To damage his brand so significantly as he has, it only made sense to me that he MUST win the presidency because if he doesn’t, what business does he return to?

Now, it’s even worse. First, there are the racist comments. These by themselves would have many business partners walking sideways. But then there is also the investigations into his income as well as his fraud problems. Trump would now be toxic. While it’s a nice story for Trump to back out, what does he back out to? His businesses, at least those that provide a large amount of his income, must be suffering incredibly.

I suppose he can establish businesses where his political base is strong, but I do not see a way for him to maintain any businesses that will support his current lifestyle.

Trump’s donors will probably drop out before he does, according to this lawyer in NYC:

Interesting that, following the MSNBC story on the dysfunctional campaign, Trump’s response is to send out tweets attacking NBC, the reporters etc. This proves the point of the article. The general public doesn’t really care about these “inside baseball” stories. 

But major donors do care. They will be hesitant to contribute to a campaign that (a) doesn’t know how to spend the money and (b) is likely to lose. Trump’s immediate priority should have been (and undoubtedly wasn’t) to go to all of the potential Republican big money donors and assure them that he will right the ship, that there’s plenty of time to get the campaign structure fixed and that he needs contributions now in order to do so. 

If those folks think he’s going to lose, the money won’t be forthcoming in nearly the volume he will need. Even Sheldon Adelson might back off of his commitment to contribute $100 million if he thinks it will all go to waste. It’s increasingly obvious that Trump, despite his ability to attract a certain element, entered into this race without any understanding of what was involved and without bothering to hire some experts who do have an understanding. 

Update from a reader in Oakton, Virginia:

With all the buzz about “Trexit,” I don't understand why anyone thinks it would make a difference (other than in a kind of political cosmetology).  Of course Donald Trump is incapable of governing; but so is the Republican Party of which he is now the de facto leader. But Trump never has really pretended to care about governance, and he’s not in power; whereas they have, and they are. That Republicans cannot govern is shown every day in state governments from Maine to Alabama to Kansas, and in both houses of Congress. Getting rid of Trump might allow Republican leaders to conceal this fact for one more electoral cycle, at least from hackish pundits and politically unaware voters, but it will not address the real issue. And it is that issue—the need for a new and different Republican Party—on which we should be concentrating.