Donald Trump is just like Nixon: obsessed with enemies and journalists

You might have heard the comparisons between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler — after all, the GOP frontrunner has demonized an entire religion, projected an authoritarian manner and urged supporters to pledge their allegiance to him in Nuremberg-style scenes at his rallies.

But recent events, including Trump’s string of slams against Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, also suggest that Trump shares troubling personality traits with another of history’s failed leaders: Richard Nixon.

Trump, it seems, has an inner Nixon.

Trump, like Nixon, seems obsessed with his tormentors. We learned this after the debate in which Trump responded to Marco Rubio’s taunts about his “little hands.” NPR aired an interview with the two magazine founders who first called Trump a “short-fingered vulgarian” back in the 1980s, and it turns out Trump has been haunted by the label ever since. So when Rubio revived it on the campaign trail, Trump couldn’t leave it alone in a nationally televised debate, insisting that he has big hands and a big — well, you know.

Graydon Carter, one of the co-founders of Spy magazine and a regular Trump critic, told NPR that Trump is so tormented by the “short-fingered vulgarian” epithet that he’ll cut out pictures of his hands from magazines and send them to Carter with handwritten notes such as, “See, not so short.” Trump has sent Carter pictures like this as recently as last spring, Carter said. That’s about 30 years after the term was coined.

Nixon, who narrowly lost the 1960 presidential race to young and handsome Jack Kennedy, was haunted by his past, present and possibly future Democratic foes.  He kept an enemies list, targeted some of them for revenge through the IRS and other government agencies, and seemed particularly obsessed with the Kennedys and anyone deemed a McGovernite.

In their book “The Final Days,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein describe Henry Kissinger’s impressions of Nixon this way: “Kissinger was intimately familiar with what he considered the vulgar strands of the Nixon psyche. The President was a man consumed by memories of past failures, a man who let his enemies dictate to him, whose actions were often reactions, Kissinger said.”

With Trump, the evidence of his obsessions is crystal clear in his regular bashings of the press, particularly Kelly. Whereas Nixon became obsessed with The Washington Post, which led the way in the Watergate coverage, Trump can’t seem to forget about the Fox News host who called him to task for his misogyny at the very first GOP debate.

At Trump’s post-election press conference after his wins in Michigan and Mississippi, Kelly’s name popped up out of nowhere. “Even Megyn Kelly said Trump did well tonight,” he bragged. And over the ensuing weeks, for no apparent reason, he kept tweeting about her, calling her “overrated” and “not worth watching.” Last week, Fox fired back with a statement that accused Trump of harboring an “extreme, sick obsession” with its star anchor.

And it’s not just Kelly. Trump seems haunted by just about every journalist who squeezes into the press pens at his rallies. In Trump-speak, they are “absolute scum.”

Of course, Trump reacts to his torment differently than did Nixon. Nixon was secretive, a cover-up conspirator at the head of one of history’s most infamous spy rings.

Trump, shall we say, lets it all hang out. His tweeting habits have become legendary, and you never know what he’ll say when he calls into cable news shows. Every criticism of him — or “hit,” as he likes to call them— becomes fodder for 24 hours of cable news chat.

But their similarities in personality raise the question: Can someone govern effectively if he or she is constantly obsessed with old enemies? Hard to imagine.

As Nixon, after learning the hard lessons of Watergate, famously said,

“Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.”

Richard Fellinger, of Camp Hill, is an author, former journalist and writing fellow at Elizabethtown College’s Writing Wing.

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