Politics & Policy

Trump’s Fatal Flaw

Trump speaks at a rally in Everett, Wash., August 31, 2016. (Reuters photo: Carlo Allegri)
An ungovernable temperament can’t govern.

Donald Trump confused many people on Wednesday when he segued from a sedate visit with Mexico’s president on the “humanitarian crisis” of immigration to a raucous rally in Phoenix, where he delivered an uncompromising speech on restricting even legal immigration. In one day, Trump appeared to be both appealing to moderate suburbanites concerned about his tone and dishing out red meat to his base.

Which is the real Donald Trump? The answer is, that’s the wrong question. Trump is a gifted builder of his brand in part because he operates on instinct, and his natural instinct is to be a shape shifter who gives the audience in front of him what it wants. He not only doesn’t sweat the details of policy, he sometimes won’t even give them a glance.

Consider this anecdote from Time magazine’s David Von Drehle, who spent hours on Trump’s campaign plane last February during the primaries:

Trump eyes his beautifully burled and varnished desk heaped with paper – documents, clippings, photographs, who knows? An even larger mountain of paper is on the seat next to his. Trump plucks a sheet as if at random, briefly examines it, then tosses it back on the pile. “I come from these rallies and get in here, and they want me to look at documents. I can’t do it,” he says. “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?”

Even as he climbs back to within hailing distance in the polls against Hillary Clinton, Trump seems unable to move just an extra few inches to reassure nervous voters. When pollster Peter Hart held a focus group in Wisconsin last week, he asked participants who they thought would ultimately win the race. As observer Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report noted, “All but one picked Clinton. Why? They think that Trump can’t change and won’t change. . . . They want to see a more professional and even-tempered Trump — two even specifically pointed to the debates as important markers. Yet, even if Trump were to suddenly become ‘more presidential’ and perform in a professional way during the debates, these voters aren’t convinced that it will stick. They are grudgingly accepting a Clinton candidacy, but not enthusiastically embracing it.”

If Donald Trump loses in November, it will be because he simply lacks the self-discipline to reach voters beyond his base. As one former business associate of his put it: “Trump is a spoiled, petulant, insecure 13-year-old who won’t change because he thinks that would show ‘weakness.’” 

If Trump loses, it will be because he simply lacks the self-discipline to reach voters beyond his base.

Comparing Trump to a teenager may sound harsh, but all the evidence to back up that description is there. Back in February, Time magazine’s Von Drehle caught Trump watching a TV report on the petty insults that flowed between Marco Rubio and Trump. Von Drehle asked Trump what he told Barron, his nine-year-old son, about this schoolyard taunting. “‘It’s just part of the deal,’ he says with a shrug. But do you teach him to do that in his life? I ask. What if he comes to you and says someone at school called him a name? Trump shrugged again. ‘I didn’t start it.’”

In other words, in Trump’s Law of the Jungle mentality there is no higher standard of behavior to aspire to. He acts like a self-indulgent high-school student with no adult chaperone who can take away his Twitter keys. Even his friend and former political strategist Roger Stone complained to Politico last year that Trump “has these yes-men around him, and now he’s living in a parallel world.”

#related#Even with the recent arrival of a new, more level-headed campaign team, he also doesn’t yet appear to have people who can really level with him. Someone who was once closely involved with Trump’s best-selling books told me that his long-time secretary once confessed that she couldn’t possibly bring him a piece of bad news. “I’ve kept my job this long by knowing I must never bring him bad news,” she reportedly said.

Of course, the problem is that we are now only two months away from Election Day. Trump’s refusal to make any concessions makes it much more likely he will lose. And that bad news is not something he can avoid confronting — it would be loudly delivered by millions of Americans who will have decided they wanted someone with the emotional skill set that Trump seems incapable of demonstrating he has. 

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