Sunday's presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was bizarre, but in a sense, nothing was as bizarre as its end. All evening, Donald Trump had been deflecting questions, denying facts, spurting lies and accusations. His stress level had been palpable, from his panting to the word salads that left his mouth.
And then, all of a sudden, something changed. After Hillary Clinton praised Trump's children, his whole demeanor switched. Like a stray dog that is suddenly caressed for the first time, Trump first reacted with insecurity: "I don't know if it was meant to be a compliment." And when she smiled and nodded, his whole demeanor changed. He praised her for not quitting. For the first time all night, he seemed sincere. Now he was able to formulate coherent, brief and pungent sentences. For thirty seconds or so, he looked relaxed, in control, almost likeable.
The moment demonstrated something important about what is driving Trump: he is crying out for love. Trump does not actually want to be President. Trump wants to be loved.
His whole conduct shows it. When he told Hillary in the first debate, bizarrely, how much he wanted her to be happy, we should assume he meant it. When he complained in the second debate that everyone was teaming up against him ("one on three") we should assume he was complaining about a lack of love. How happy he looked at the end of the debate, when Hillary finally offered him the handshake she had refused at the debate's beginning.
It is, I think, this desire that explains much of his misogyny (without of course excusing it). Remember: to gain that love and admiration, this man will even throw the women in his family under the bus. He will cheer Howard Stern for calling his own daughter a piece of ass. He will demean his own wife just to be considered a tough guy. The famous bus audio was revolting, but it also showed something pitiful: a 59-year-old man who, by bragging about his sexual encounters, begs, inexplicably, for admiration from a 33-year-old lightweight named Billy Bush.
Think how bizarre this is: a man, running for President, just to be loved. A man for whom poll results are as important as election results because they both demonstrate levels of love. A man who will say whatever the audiences at his rallies want to hear from him.
And then think how dangerous it is.
Trump has often praised himself as unpredictable. In reality, he is the exact opposite. His desire to be loved makes him as transparent as a soap opera. He has been ridiculed, and rightly so, for being provoked by a simple tweet. The Clinton camp lured him into the Alicia Machado trap, and he could not keep his calm. He hates those who do not like him with a vengeance, down to the members of his own party.
More dangerous than his impulse at lashing back, however, may be Trump's softness for signs of love. He has told us as much: Whoever likes him he will like back. When he said this about his opponents in the campaign -- Cruz, Carson, Christie -- we thought he was strategic, but he was sincere. When he said it about Putin we could see what world politics is for him: a gigantic game of liking and not liking. Trump found it even difficult to reject an endorsement from David Duke.
For a private person, such a dependence on the views of others is a problem. For a President, to be run by desire to be loved is deadly. How easy it would be for anyone who knows him to cajole Trump. We can be sure Putin knows this well.
After the debate on Sunday, when Trump walked across the stage, he looked almost like a little boy. That little boy just plays tough. Like a little boy, with all his tantrums, he only shows how much he wants everyone to love him. And perhaps we should really offer him, if not love, then at least compassion. And allow him to go home.
What we should not offer this little boy is the Presidency of the United States.