There was something about the way Donald Trump spoke last night that made me wonder how much he really wants to be president. Although they disagree with one another vehemently as to the likelihood of Trump’s winning in November, both the #NeverTrump and pro-Trump contingents agree strongly on one thing: That this is an important election and that it would be a disaster if Hillary Clinton were to prevail. On the face of it, Trump believes this, too. But how much?
Looking into the camera yesterday, Trump said giddily that he’d “never forget this moment.” Now, I daresay that’s true. But I couldn’t help but notice that he said it as might a dilettante, for whom this is all a lark. From my perspective at home, Trump in his moment of truth sounded less like a man who understands the stakes here and who is desperate — desperate — to win, and more like a high-school Homecoming King who is pleased to have been chosen for the big night. When I look at Paul Ryan, I see a man who, deep within his soul, wants to change the direction of American public policy. When I looked at Mitt Romney, I saw a man who believed to his core that he was the best man for the job. When I look at Hillary Clinton I see a woman who has wanted to be president since she was seven years old. When I looked at Trump last night, I saw a man who, having been asked “What do you get the billionaire who has it all?”, answered with a smirk: “The presidency?”
My instincts were not exactly contradicted by this report, from today’s New York Times:
One day this past May, Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reached out to a senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who left the presidential race just a few weeks before. As a candidate, Kasich declared in March that Trump was “really not prepared to be president of the United States,” and the following month he took the highly unusual step of coordinating with his rival Senator Ted Cruz in an effort to deny Trump the nomination. But according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?
When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.
Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?
“Making America great again” was the casual reply.
There is nothing wrong with a lack of explicit ambition, nor with a tendency to humility. As a matter of fact, I have been arguing for a long time that what America really needs right now is a president who does not see his role as the Primary National Figurehead. But my fear with Trump — among others — is less that he’d be Calvin Coolidge and more that he’d be incessantly in the public eye without having the slightest grasp on the heavy reins of the state. What’s worse than a too-powerful Queen? A too-powerful Queen who thinks that her palace is all a big joke. “Off with their heads? What enormous fun!”