Why can't President Trump let anything go? A theory, and a warning.

Donald Trump can't let anything go
(Image credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

"President Trump is a man seriously susceptible to snagging himself in the nettles of obsession," and lately "no compulsion has so consumed his psyche, and his Twitter account, as the deeply held and shallowly sourced belief that President Barack Obama tapped his phones," say Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman in The New York Times. "So why can't he just let go?"

They have four theories, starting with the early influence on Trump from his father, hard-driving real estate developer Fred Trump, and mentor Roy Cohn, a "caustic and conniving McCarthy-era lawyer" who counseled Trump "never to give in or concede error." These men taught Trump the values of relentless self-promotion and all-out war against any threat, The Times says. Trump also uses these attacks to change the subject from other stories he would like to bury — in this case, Russia.

A third reason Trump continues to dig himself into holes is that nobody is stopping him, The Times says, citing aides who describe a White House hamstrung by "a nearly paralytic inability to tell Mr. Trump that he has erred or gone too far on Twitter." Finally, Trump punches back at any perceived slight because, according to aides, the president is furiously "driven by a need to prove his legitimacy as president to the many critics who deem him an unworthy victor forever undercut by Hillary Clinton's three-million-vote win in the popular vote."

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"He's deeply, deeply insecure about how he's perceived in the world, about whether or not he's competent and deserves what he's gotten," says Tim O'Brien, who wrote a 2005 biography of Trump. "There's an unquenchable thirst for validation and love. That's why he can never stay quiet, even when it would be wise strategically or emotionally to hold back."

Trump's compulsive clinging "to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle" has serious consequences, The Wall Street Journal warns in an editorial. The editorialists chalk up Trump's "seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials, and other falsehoods" to "the sin of pride in not admitting error," but whatever the reason, Trump is rapidly whittling away his trustworthiness. "Two months into his presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump's approval rating at 39 percent," the WSJ editors note. "No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn't show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he's a fake president."

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.