The Corner

White House

The Trump Paradox

President Donald Trump in Tupelo, Miss., November 26, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS)

Today, Jim Geraghty writes snidely:

VDH writes, “The hostile reaction to Trump is a sort of proof of his success.” Does it follow, then, that if Trump was widely loved, it would be proof of his failure?

Geraghty creates a false either/or binary. The hostile reaction against Trump does largely arise from his controversial agendas that are proving for the most part on the economy and foreign policy to be successful. And yet it is simultaneously true that if he were to moderate his positions and stick with the status quo, he might be more popular — and yet I think less effective.

Geraghty also did not read carefully what I wrote. The opposite of “the hostile reaction” as “sort of proof of his success” is not “widely loved” and “proof” (absolute as opposed to sort of proof) of his failure.”

But aside from either Trump’s diehard supporters or critics, the larger point of the column was a disconnect — that the upswing in the economy and restoring deterrence abroad, counterintuitively, seem to free voters to focus on a variety of issues less resonant in recessionary or wartime conditions. And that paradox does not necessarily benefit Trump.

In other words, while one would assume that Trump’s excesses and crassness would become especially accentuated in tough and dangerous times, his comportment also becomes, for some, the issue when people are doing well and there is less danger of war abroad.

The contradictory point is while Trump will always secure his base of 35–40 percent of the electorate, his comportment means that he is in a no-win dilemma. His tweeting and ad hoc editorializing will obviously be a force multiplier of his problems for lots of voters in rough times; and even in better times, it will prove problematic for some for the quite different reason that an upswing will give them the luxury of focusing on Trump not being “presidential.”

Geraghty also ignores the context of the paradox. The genre of the Western focuses on just that irony: In extremis the beleaguered sodbusters or town council put up with the flawed outsider who rides in at their invitation. Once he takes care of the threat and thankfully leaves, then the once-threatened have the luxury of ruing that they had ignored issues of his comportment and character.

The same paradox is true in military history, whether a General Sherman, Patton, or LeMay: The suspicion and hostility that met them after the end of the fighting in part was a result of their success, which allowed the now peaceful to fault their uncouthness — perhaps in a way less likely in November 1864, August 1944, or March 1945. And had Patton been Bradley or LeMay a Hansell, both would have been likely more “widely loved” and, yes, less successful.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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