Everyone -- from commentators on TV and in learned journals, to the average citizen at home, to people all around the globe -- have talked about how different this presidential race is from anything we've seen before. They cite all kinds of moments that are at variance from standard political practice, all kinds of reasons for this behavior, and look for precedents to help frame the discussion. But there really is one overriding factor that makes 2016 unique historically: This is the first race we've ever had where the goal is solely and exclusively the buttressing of the ego, the aggrandizement of the candidate to the exclusion of other factors.
To provide context: every presidential candidate in every party has a huge ego. You cannot assume you are fit for that office without it. But in every case, that quality is leavened with other ideas, and usually exceeded by them in the party's presentation and the candidate's thinking. If you look at FDR's election in 1932 and the subsequent New Deal, he really is enacting much of the Democrat's platform. The political party was his guiding light, more important than the man. In 1964 Barry Goldwater clearly fought for personal conservative beliefs, which were far more extreme than the country sanctioned, as they rejected it by a landslide. In 1980 and 1984 Ronald Reagan offered the country a vivid personality, but he had developed a firm and well developed conservative philosophy that had been honed by years of thought and writings.
This year, by contrast and for the first time, it is all about the candidate himself. There is nothing more. Donald Trump has confounded and often frustrated the political leadership of his own party by missing opportunity after opportunity. Their problem is that they misread the candidate: His goal is really not to win the election or even to make America great again. It is to keep a spotlight on himself, his needs and whims. Contrast this, say, to Goldwater, whose campaign was dedicated to an ideal, to--in modern parlance--make America strong again.
Go back through the primaries and after. Commentators have noted endlessly Trump's use of labels--Lyin' Ted, Low Energy Jeb--but this were primarily expressions of his own feelings, his own resentments about his opponents, not just a political tool. Look at how he dissed John McCain. He didn't object to the senator's positions or record, he just expressed his personal feelings: "I like people who weren't captured." Who and what he likes is what matters.
Then, after winning the nomination, at the convention he allowed an opponent, Ted Cruz, to present, knowing beforehand there would be no endorsement. Trump let him speak, but rigged the game. The New York delegation, right up front, was primed beforehand to start booing, led by its floor whips, with other delegations following suit. This was set up, in other words, to humiliate an enemy, not to unify a party or to express a belief. At key moments--the presentation of a running mate, his first press conference after the convention--instead of following up a publicity advantage, instead became another chance to express his private anger at some slight. It's not about anything else; it's about him.
When it comes to conventions, Trump is an equal opportunist willing to disrupt any and all so that the spotlight can shift back to him. In the middle of the Democrat's event, he announced his support for foreign persons hacking into DNC emails, a breach of sacred positions--from both parties--on intelligence and national security. Why the gaffe? Gail Collins of the New York Times tellingly wrote, "The Democrats hadn't even gotten to Clinton's acceptance speech before everyone was distracted by Donald Trump encouraging the Russians to spy on his opponent."
Sixteen years ago in 2000, William F. Buckley, one of the true founders of conservatism in this country, astoundingly wrote, "Look for the narcissist. The most obvious target in today's lineup is, of course, Donald Trump. When he looks at a glass, he is mesmerized by its reflection." In his acceptance speech, the candidate declared, "I am your voice." Based on his record, he is not the American people's voice, nor this nation's. In this election season, as it has always been, Donald J. Trump's voice is just his own.