When it comes to Donald Trump, punditry has taken on the conspicuous air of psychoanalysis. Writing about him, certainly trying to predict his behavior, feels less like an exercise in political prognostication as it does a hapless attempt to analyze his various personality disorders and how they'll come into play in his decision-making. With this in mind, let's just get something out of the way right now: You could've seen coming from a mile away that he'd try to weasel his way out of the upcoming debates with Hillary Clinton.
Trump may be a megalomaniac who loves publicity and a guy with potentially very serious mental health issues, but he's not completely stupid. He knows full well that a one-on-one debate against Clinton would be disastrous for him. Unlike his televised face-offs with the numerous players in the GOP primary clown show, he wouldn't be able to resort to name-calling and petty insults as his primary mode of attack -- not without looking genuinely foolish -- and he'd be pressed hard by whip-smart moderators to answer questions substantively (something Trump is incapable of doing). What's more, Hillary Clinton isn't Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. She's a fierce competitor with a dizzying command of the facts and a seasoned debater who'd be tough to throw off her game. Not only that, but she's a woman, one who -- maybe simply by virtue of that fact -- knows exactly how to get under Trump's notoriously rice-paper-thin skin.
All of this leads us to the inevitable: that Trump is already setting the stage to not take the stage for the debates. And how is he doing that? Well, if you figured he's creating controversy and melodrama where there is none and that he's flat out lying, give yourself a hand. Trump spent days responding to criticism of him at the DNC with a flurry of increasingly unhinged tweets -- to say nothing of a near-suicidal attack on the family of fallen U.S. soldier Humayun Khan, a Muslim -- so in keeping with tradition, that was always going to be where he'd fire his first shot in any unnecessary debate battle. And so two days ago he wrote, "Hillary & the Dems are trying to rig the debates so 2 are up against major NFL games. Same as last time w/ Bernie. Unacceptable!" This is classic Trump. It's what he did so many times during the GOP primary debates when he either got cold feet or simply didn't feel like bothering to do the work because he's a chronic lazy-ass: he created chaos and controversy out of thin air.
And thin air is really where this comes from, because to be honest nobody is irrationally furious over a political debate going up against an NFL game, least of all the NFL itself. But that's where Trump's pathological nature kicks into overdrive, because he's already bullshitting about this supposed crisis. He just told George Stephanoupolos on This Week that he's gotten an earful from on-high about it. "I got a letter from the NFL saying, 'This is ridiculous. Why are the debates against...' 'cause the NFL doesn't wanna go against the debates," he said. Now, wanna place a little bet on whether this statement is true? No, of course you don't because of course it's not. It's a flat-out lie. The NFL has already publicly come out and stated that it never sent anything to Trump. So, let's say it again because it's so important: Trump lied. He lied -- as he's done so often over the past year, seemingly without a second thought.
Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo deserves a doctorate in Trump Psychology, because it really does feel like he's nailed down everything we can expect from Trump as he tries to find an excuse -- any excuse -- to ditch the debates with Clinton. His assessment is as astute as you're likely to find on this subject. He says that during the GOP primary, Trump used "a series of dominance rituals" as a means of exerting command over his debate opponents and the entire process. "Characterologically, Trump needs tension and drama. Fresh out of the conventions, he now needs to create a drama out of the debates. Like a bad seed kid, he can't help picking fights. He needs tension both to satisfy inner needs and to deal with other people," Marshall writes. "But even if he eventually agrees to participate in one or more of the debates, he will try mightily to force some change or break some dishes in order to assert dominance over the process. He'll insist someone needs to be included, some part of the format has to change, some location isn't sufficient. The substance will always be secondary to the need to impose his will."
In other words, as Marshall concludes, this nonsense about football creating an insurmountable obstacle to the presidential debates -- pulled directly out of Trump's shriveled orange ass -- is just the beginning. The end game will either be to get out of debating Clinton entirely or to simply exert dominance over her from the outset by insisting that she indulge his petulance and/or ultimately give in to his demands. Maybe the debates will happen, maybe they won't. But make no mistake: Trump knows that if they do, Hillary Clinton will mop the floor with him. The best he can hope for is to make everyone pay attention to his juvenile games in the lead-up to that moment.