Cooper to Woodward: What you just said is pretty terrifying

(CNN)In the world according to Donald Trump, the years bring little change.

Back in 1990, when he was an aspiring monarch in the Atlantic City gambling hierarchy, his Taj Mahal casino was a mess -- plagued by slot machines that didn't work. The casino control commission shut one-third of them down -- on opening night, no less. A complete disaster.

But Trump, ever the con man, had a tale in mind. When asked about it by Larry King, he just lied. "The slots were so hot," he said "They blew apart...they were virtually on fire."

And the constant lies continued, virtually on fire, for decades.

Within the Trump organization -- and, by extension, within his White House -- the political alchemists try to spin the lies into truths, or half-truths, or plausible truths. After Trump's misleading comments at an ABC town hall on "herd mentality" as a way to get rid of the virus, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the President addressed it "very clearly."

And so it goes.

Except now. The proverbial slot machines are still on fire and there are some people trying to figure out why, and maybe extinguish the smoke that clouds the truth.

Veteran journalist Bob Woodward, who has written about nine presidents, struggled to figure out Trump's particular psychosis. It was hard. In conversations we have so far heard, Trump was unable to reflect upon anything, admit any mistake or learn anything from experience. And finally, Woodward came to a stunning -- and apt -- conclusion, telling CNN's Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night: "I don't know, to be honest, whether he's got it straight in his head what is real and what is unreal."

At a certain point, as Woodward implies, Trump believes his own lies. And he lives his own lies. He wanted to talk with Woodward to impress him because he believes in his own ability to schmooze and succeed. So he spoke with him 18 times. And he did not succeed.

Trump is lucky he didn't testify before special counsel Robert Mueller -- as he once said he wanted to (or was that a lie, too?). Schmoozing doesn't work well with lawyers. And his own lawyers knew it.

He also did not succeed at ABC's recent town hall, when actual citizens with personal questions asked him about, say, his plans for health care. He told a professor from Philadelphia with a serious preexisting condition to her face that he was fighting to protect her preexisting condition coverage. Except his administration is challenging preexisting conditions in court and he has promised a health care plan for months, and promised one again. Of course, nothing has materialized.

Trump loves to retweet obviously false and defamatory tweets about Joe Biden, because he can. His acolytes in the GOP and the White House will pretend they haven't seen or don't know about the tweets, but of course they do. And they know Trump lies because he knows no other way.

And when he's challenged by the guardrails of government -- the watchdog inspectors general, the courts, the press, the public -- he simply spins and obfuscates and blocks. So his lawyers wrote his answers to Mueller, his former White House counsel Don McGahn kept quiet and Trump minimized the coronavirus as simply the flu when he knew how dangerous it was. The inspectors general are dismissed, presidential conversations with foreign leaders are kept largely under wraps as are internal census documents. The generals who abhor his judgment and find him dangerous are "disgruntled" or captives of fake news. Oh, and if he loses the election, it was rigged.

It never ends.

Trump's Taj Mahal -- once advertised as the eighth wonder of the world -- was anything but. It wasn't the symbol of luxury and prestige Trump craved, and eventually cratered as Atlantic City suffered.

This time, the gamble is not about money but about lives. But in Trump's mind, there is no mistake he has made, nothing he could have done differently.

In his mind, the slots are still hot and on fire.