Politics & Policy

Being Presidential Is Not in Trump’s DNA

Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in Jupiter, Florida, on March 8, 2016 in . (Joe Raedle/Getty)

‘I don’t like to analyze myself, because I might not like what I see.” So said Donald Trump, in an interview for Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success, by business journalist Michael D’Antonio.

In a press conference last Tuesday, after he won Michigan and Mississippi, Trump said: “I can be more presidential than anybody. I can be more presidential, if I want to be, I can be more presidential than anybody. . . . I would say more presidential than anybody other than the great Abe Lincoln.” But he never rises to anything like that standard, because he can’t.

When you see Trump acting “presidential,” just wait five minutes. During the news conference, he briefly made a plea to “unify the party,” but he also launched into a schlocky infomercial for a group of Trump-branded products. Most of the products are in fact no longer available or not sold in stores.

A couple of days later, during a GOP debate in Miami, a subdued Trump did steer away from inflammatory rhetoric and insults. But after the debate, he accused a female reporter who works for a pro-Trump website of lying when she said she had been manhandled by Trump’s campaign manager. Trump accused her of fabricating the controversy even though there was overwhelming evidence to support her claims.

The next day, a Trump rally in Chicago was canceled after outside agitators staged a protest that led to violence. The protesters were egged on by the left-wing group MoveOn.org, which has endorsed Bernie Sanders. Trump has a legitimate beef with people who disrupt his rallies and attempt to silence him.

But Trump then went way over the top. When NBC’s Chuck Todd asked him today whether he would pay the legal fees of a Trump supporter who brutally sucker-punched a black man in the face at a Trump rally, he replied: “I’ve actually instructed my people to look into it.” (At an earlier rally Trump had promised to pay the legal fees of supporters who would “knock the crap out of” protesters reportedly getting ready to throw tomatoes.) Today, he told Todd that the man who threw the sucker punch “got carried away.”

Earlier on Sunday, Trump had tweeted: “Bernie Sanders is lying when he says his disruptors aren’t told to go to my events. Be careful Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours!” Trump insisted his message didn’t constitute a threat. But at the very least, he is encouraging a combative attitude that could lead to further mayhem at his rallies. These are not the words of a person who says he wants to “unify” the Republican party or the country.

Some people say that Trump’s nomination is inevitable. No, it’s not. It’s four months until the GOP convention in Cleveland, and Trump has dozens of opportunities for further outrageous behavior that could drag down his general-election numbers. He already is the only Republican to consistently lose to Hillary Clinton in the RealClearPolitics average of all polls. He currently trails her by 6.3 percentage points (47.3 to 41.0). It may be worse by the time the gavel opens at the Cleveland convention.

With the exception of Goldwater in 1964 and McGovern in 1972, no major political party in the modern era has nominated a likely loser in the fall if a plausible alternative was available.

With the exception of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and George McGovern in 1972, no major political party in the modern era has nominated a likely loser in the fall if a plausible alternative was available. A great many voters in GOP primaries don’t seem to care much about Trump’s weakness when it comes to electability, but almost two-thirds of general-election voters have an unfavorable view of him. That’s a path to the White House that won’t be blazed until something freezes over.

Trump is not going to change. His relish for physical confrontation began at an early age. His biographer Michael D’Antonio said Trump confided to him that as a boy he “always loved to fight.” Pressed to explain, he explained: “All types of fights, including physical.” D’Antonio also wrote that Trump told him he didn’t respect most of the people he met in life because “most people aren’t worthy of respect.” 

At age 69, Trump doesn’t seem to have moved on much from his schoolboy days. He is an old dog who is a master of some tricks and uninterested in anything else. In the latest Time magazine, writer David Von Drehle recounted his trip aboard Trump’s campaign plane last month. “I come from these rallies and get in here, and they want me to look at documents. I can’t do it,” he told Von Drehle. “How do you go from talking to thousands of people, all the love in those rallies, and then quietly sit here and look at documents?”

Trump clearly revels in his ability to wing it completely. “If you get good ratings, they’ll cover you even if you have nothing to say,” Trump boasted at a campaign rally last month that was covered by all the cable networks. Nor are the broadcast networks immune to the lure of heavy Trump coverage. According to the Economist, CBS, NBC, and ABC gave more than 400 hours of their evening news programs to covering Trump since his June, 2015, announcement. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, by comparison, got a combined total of 100 hours.

#related#While such coverage has harvested votes for Trump — especially in those GOP primaries where Democrats or independents can vote — it also means that most people now have a firm view of Trump. He is probably even more polarizing than Hillary Clinton, and that’s saying a lot. 

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I see nothing in the campaign so far that will change the minds of voters who are skeptical of Trump’s ability to be presidential. By promising to pay legal fees and using language such as “knock the crap out of,” he is sending the message that he condones his supporters’ fighting back with their fists if anyone tries to deny him the GOP nomination at the convention.

But being at the center of all this chaos means that Trump is highly unlikely to close the deal on becoming president. And that’s the real reason that Republican voters and delegates have to tell him “You’re fired” when he asks to become the nominee of the party. Any party that hopes to have a winning nominee would be crazy to hire someone who plays with matches and threatens to burn the whole party down. 

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