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Over a year ago, I predicted that other Republican candidates would steal Trump’s issues and that he would flame out. Oops.
But over the last year, I’ve been trying to study Trump. He’s a shrewder operator than I realized, but he’s also more in line with his recent predecessors than we may have expected.
The last 24 years have given us presidents with two sides — light and dark, good and bad — to how they govern.
First, we had Bill Clinton. On the one hand, we had Sunday Morning Bill, who was at home in church and wonking off about details. On the other hand, we had Saturday Night Bill, who was happier partying and doing more than wonking with interns.
Second, we had George W. Bush. On the one hand, we had the effective executive who, despite losing both branches of Congress in 2006, was still was able to pass the Iraq surge and TARP. On the other hand, we had Dubya, who spent billions of dollars and thousands of lives to make Iraq a bigger mess than it already was.
Third, we had Barack Obama. On the one hand, we had a smooth speaker who often appealed to our better natures. On the other hand, he had a hard time giving much credit to anybody he disagreed with, and it’s tough to think of any legislative accomplishments in his last six years that were of the magnitude of the surge and TARP. His biggest achievement, the Affordable Care Act, looks like it will be drastically revised in the next few years.
Enter The Donald.
But people do not become multimillionaires, let alone billionaires, through clownishness. He has to have a more serious side. And it may well be that Ali G, of all people, caught that side on film:
There may yet be hope that the Trump presidency will be more serious than the reality TV show that made him famous. But it would behoove his advisers to let us see the sober Trump more often and keep the clownish one under control. Yes, he’s just pretending for the cameras. Let’s recall the shrewd advice of Kurt Vonnegut: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Can Trump pretend to be presidential? If by “presidential,” we mean “reserved and respectful,” then probably not. He staged a hostile takeover of the GOP and a successful presidential campaign through trolling, and we should expect him to stick with what’s worked. He was able to regularly get his opponents to overreact and thus made himself seem saner by comparison.
He describes his style as “truthful hyperbole.” We must take him seriously — how can anyone not take the President of the United States seriously? — but we cannot take him literally. James Altucher once suggested that a key to success was to over-promise and over-deliver. Trump has the over-promising down cold.
But he also knows how to provoke his enemies. Consider his recent tweet about the popular vote: “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
Democrats and the media (if that’s not redundant) are reacting predictably:
Trump, of course, is pointing only to “fraud” that benefited Clinton; Virginia, New Hampshire and California are all states she won, and the baseless idea that illegal immigrants voted by the millions is supposed to have helped Clinton, given the fact that immigrants — and specifically undocumented ones — overwhelmingly favor Democrats.
Trump was doing this to make the case that he didn’t actually lose the popular vote, which has become a Democratic rallying cry following Clinton’s loss. It’s clearly a sore spot for Trump.
But the president-elect is also, unwittingly and amazingly, calling into question the results of an election that he won nearly three weeks ago. The logical extension of his argument is that all results should not be trusted. In effect, Trump is lending credence to the very same recount effort that he criticized as superfluous.
Trump seems to be setting the ground for reforms to prevent future voter fraud. Republicans have wanted voter ID laws for decades, and if Democrats aren’t careful, Trump will back them into a corner on this. If Democrats really care about preventing vote fraud, Trump might say, then how could they oppose laws for showing voter ID? Assuming that Trump is a buffoon is an error I made last year, but it looks like people will keep on repeating the mistake.
Trump looks like he’ll keep on trolling. But remember that behind the bluster is a shrewd businessman who only plays the clown in public.