A black cloud of illegitimacy hangs over Donald Trump, and it bothers him — a lot.
With Hillary Clinton's national lead having climbed to 2.8 million votes (and counting), Trump is officially the biggest popular-vote loser of any U.S. president. Does it matter, constitutionally speaking? No. And yet, Trump was tweaked enough by the margin to do what Trump does best: Rant on Twitter.
"In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally," he claimed, outrageously. And: "Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire, and California — so why isn't the media reporting on this? Serious bias — big problem!"
Kellyanne Conway, Trump's audacious spinstress-in-chief, tried her hand at ahistorical number-crunching, labeling the president-elect's accumulation of 306 electoral votes thusly: "Landslide. Blowout. Historic." Nate Silver duly poured cold water on that ridiculous claim, noting that Trump's electoral margin ranked 44th of 55 presidential elections.
Next came The Washington Post's blockbuster story on the CIA's apparent assessment that Russia interfered with the election specifically to help Trump, not merely to sow chaos. Trump and his team variously dissed the CIA's competence and denied that anyone can be certain of Russian involvement. "I don't believe they interfered," the future president told Time magazine. "It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey."
Those prepared to believe the worst about Trump — I will happily cop to being one of them — charged that the president-elect's voter-fraud lies are a prelude to a broader, more insidious national voter-suppression effort. As to his pooh-poohing of Putin? Retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) takes the maximally paranoid view that Trump is not just Putin's stooge; someone in Trump's campaign, and possibly Trump himself, colluded with Russian operatives and was "in on the deal" to undermine Clinton.
That is nonsense. But there is, however, an explanation for Trump's behavior that is at once considerably less damning and no less disconcerting: He desperately wants people to like and respect him. His failure to secure a popular-vote majority — a "mandate," to use the often-flogged but definitionally fuzzy term — truly disquiets him. And the suspicion that Putin or WikiLeaks maestro Julian Assange or rogue elements within the FBI put him over the top in an extraordinarily close election — that bothers him, too.
So Trump reacts as he always has when he suffers narcissistic injury: He lashes out in rage and makes up crap to reinflate his self-esteem. Trump wasn't content to claim, reasonably enough, that he might've prevailed in the popular vote if presidential campaigns were actually designed to achieve that goal. (This is precisely what George W. Bush said after 2000's bitter contest, and wisely left it at that.) No: Trump had to assure us (himself?) that millions of people, many of them presumably nonwhite, voted illegally and denied him the majority that is rightfully his.
The same goes for Russian hackers: A more psychologically balanced and patriotically minded man than Trump might have reacted to allegations of foreign interference by declaring that the integrity of our democratic system is sacred, that such behavior cannot ever be tolerated, and challenging lawmakers and intelligence agencies to make sure it never happens again.
That Trump's handwaving and lying may be borne of petulance as much as perfidy is cold comfort. Even if he is not actively seeking to sell out U.S. global interests in pursuit of detente with Putin, the reality of his fragile ego will not be lost on the likes of Putin. Foreign adversaries must know that he is by turns susceptible to flattery and, what's more troubling, easily provoked. Imagine a propaganda campaign to spread baseless rumors of, say, Melania Trump's infidelity while she's alone in New York. A terrorist attack on Trump-branded properties abroad. Captured U.S. citizens forced to say personally demeaning things about Trump or his family on camera.
Whatever I can think of, be certain whatever they're contemplating will be much worse.
And be certain of this: The Man-child-ian Candidate is capable of causing as much damage as the Manchurian Candidate.