Politics & Policy

Trump Is Exactly the President His Supporters Thought They Were Getting

President Trump greets supporters at a rally for Luther Strange in Huntsville, Ala., September 22, 2017. (Reuters photo: Aaron P. Bernstein)
GOP primary voters wanted a candidate who would prioritize the culture wars. They got their wish.

You can dislike what Donald Trump’s presidency is delivering, but you can’t say it isn’t delivering what he promised it would.

Consider what Trump brought to the table when he descended that escalator and announced he was running for president in June 2015. He hadn’t run a state that accounted for 33 percent of the country’s net new jobs over the last ten years, as Texas governor Rick Perry had. He hadn’t crippled public-sector unions in his state, the way Wisconsin governor Scott Walker had. He hadn’t enacted a sweeping expansion of school choice, the way Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal had.

He was a businessman, a celebrity, and a ubiquitous presence on television for many years before he became a politician. He would appear on cable-news programs such as Larry King Live and give his opinions on current events. King would ask him about what the U.S. strategy should be in the Iraq War, whether Barack Obama or John McCain would handle the 2008 economic crisis better, what advice he would give President Obama, and even how he thought we should handle Somali pirates. It didn’t much matter that he had no particular expertise in any of these subjects; he was a famous person, and famous people draw eyeballs.

Why did Republican primary voters and the electorate as a whole conclude that Donald Trump had the breadth and depth of knowledge to be a good president? Partially because cable-news networks spent years treating Trump as an all-around expert on every issue under the sun.

He may not have done a lot that Republican primary voters had liked, but he sure said things they liked, and not just about political issues. He had a particular gift for getting into nasty public spats with somewhat left-of-center celebrities and media figures. He relished fighting with Rosie O’Donnell, mocked Cher’s plastic surgeries, scoffed at Robert De Niro’s intelligence, and ripped into Arianna Huffington in personal terms: She was “unattractive both inside and out,” he said. “I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.”

In 2016, Republican voters were presented with a large field of experienced, qualified candidates who had persuaded legislators to pass big, consequential bills. They told every one of those candidates to take a hike and chose a more entertaining option. With Trump, the circus came to town; you never knew whether he was going to give out Lindsey Graham’s cellphone number, bestow a mocking nickname on one of his rivals, incite the crowds at his rallies to violence, or start a feud with a debate moderator.

Republicans can’t complain about any of this. It’s exactly the presidency they were promised, the presidency they signed up for.

Fast-forward to today, and the president of the United States is relishing his big fights with National Football League players who kneel during the national anthem and with the NBA champion Golden State Warriors. He asks if the opposition to him from Facebook, the television networks, the New York Times, and the Washington Post amounts to “collusion.” He gloats about the poor ratings for the Emmy awards and the declining number of subscribers to ESPN.

Meanwhile, the Senate GOP cannot accumulate 50 votes to pass a bill that would repeal and replace Obamacare, Republicans in Congress are only getting started on what’s likely to be a tough fight to lower taxes, and there’s little to no sign of an infrastructure bill on the horizon. In San Diego, contractors are building prototypes for a wall on our southern border, but Congress hasn’t passed the billions in funding required to complete it. Trump can only fume about the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster in the Senate, as if it that reality just snuck up on him one day.

Republicans can’t complain about any of this. It’s exactly the presidency they were promised, the presidency they signed up for.

His boasts about The Art of the Deal aside, there was never much evidence that Trump’s specialty was building coalitions or uniting disparate factions into a temporary alliance to achieve a common goal. He rarely seems interested in the details of policy, urges Congress to pass a bill and then turns around and calls it “mean,” publicly tears into his own cabinet members, and sometimes bashes and undermines the arguments of his own lawyers. His quick agreement with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi on the debt ceiling was allegedly driven by spite for Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House speaker Paul Ryan. Is it really surprising that a figure so erratic and temperamental would be unsuccessful in persuading the likes of John McCain, Rand Paul, and Susan Collins to accept a compromise?

Trump’s specialty is “fighting” — that is, lashing out at perceived slights, insults, and criticism. It doesn’t change law, set policy, or last much longer than a news cycle. But it sure makes for good television, and it probably makes a lot of Trump’s supporters feel good. From their perspective, after all, he’s doing just what he said he’d do.

    READ MORE:

    A Profile of Trump’s Supporters and Haters

    Why Trump’s Character Flaws Do Not Dissuade His Followers

    Trump’s Betrayal Won’t Matter

— Jim Geraghty is National Review’s senior political correspondent.

 

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