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In final days, Trump is obsessed with vengeance, kept away from Twitter by staff

Donald Trump Campaigns In Key States During Weekend Ahead Of General Presidential Election
Donald Trump at a rally in Reno on Saturday night.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

The New York Times’s report on the last days of the Donald Trump campaign is crammed with telling small details — his aides seem to be employing a lot of wishful thinking when filling out electoral maps; campaign chairman Steve Bannon’s pants literally caught on fire; Trump is still speaking regularly with long-fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — but the overwhelming takeaway is that Trump is obsessed with grievance and vengeance before Election Day.

It’s a scary portrait: Trump’s closest associates don’t even trust him with Twitter, let alone the levers of the campaign to seek presidential power.

“Aides to Mr. Trump have finally wrested away the Twitter account that he used to colorfully — and often counterproductively — savage his rivals,” Maggie Haberman, Ashley Parker, Jeremy W. Peters, and Michael Barbaro write. “But offline, Mr. Trump still privately muses about all of the ways he will punish his enemies after Election Day.”

Trump is already plotting how he will take revenge, including reviving an idea he floated over the summer, in which he pledged to start a Super PAC to target his political enemies. Back then, he said it would oppose John Kasich and Ted Cruz, his rivals in the Republican primary, and the Times’ report suggests Trump is still nursing those grudges.

The Times presents Trump’s private remarks as a contrast with his resolve in the final week to stay on message and relatively disciplined in public — capitalizing on the FBI letter indicating a renewed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails just enough, but then moving on.

What it truly demonstrates is just how much effort it takes to get Trump to act anything like a normal presidential candidate, and how damaging he’s likely to be when he’s no longer under those restraints.

If Trump seems more subdued on Twitter, it’s because his staff is reading and approving every word he writes. (They may have even physically taken away Trump’s phone or Twitter access; the story isn’t entirely clear on this point, but it describes Trump dictating a tweet to spokeswoman Hope Hicks for Hicks to publish.)

Trump’s thirst for vengeance led him to override his aides’ suggestions that he focus his Oct. 22 speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on policy. Instead, he made threats to sue the women who had accused him of sexual harassment the focal point of the address: “Mr. Trump was adamant. There had to be a severe penalty for those who dared to attack him, he said,” the reporters write. “He could not just sit back and let these women ‘come at me.’”

In other words, the Republican nominee for president is someone whose staff has had to exert Herculean efforts to stop him from going on Twitter tirades. He’s obsessed with getting back at people who have angered him, even at the risk of damaging his shot at the presidency. All the while, he insists he’s going to win.

The question the reporting raises isn’t whether it’s safe to entrust the powers of the presidency to such a man. It’s how his own aides, who know better than anyone how hard it is to restrain Trump, are still justifying it to themselves.