The most common response I get from Trump supporters in my radio audience when I react negatively to his words is “You’re taking him too literally.”
My first question this morning, like much of the rest of that part of the American public who don’t live neck deep in “fake news,” was: What part of “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally” should I not take literally?
He followed that up by re-tweeting illogical nonsense: “what PROOF do u have Donald Trump did not suffer from millions of FRAUD votes?”
Many in the media focused on the notion that Trump’s claim is all but impossible and that its likely source is the Twitter feed of a popular conspiracy theory site. Hardly the place where a man who receives daily classified CIA briefings should be seeking information. And that’s true.
But it’s not primarily what bothered me.
And as a political strategist, you might advise Mr. Trump that responding to the left’s implicit claim that his election is illegitimate because he didn’t win the popular vote is actually playing into Democrats’ hands.
But that’s not primarily what bothered me.
On Tuesday morning, apparently glued to Twitter with one eye and CNN with the other, Donald Trump decided to distract from the criticism of his unfounded claim that but for fraud he’d have won the popular vote by tweeting again.
You’d think that he would have had something to say about the Muslim immigrant terrorist who fortunately failed to kill anybody on Monday despite driving into a crowd of students at Ohio State University and then jumping out of his car and slashing people with a knife before an on-the-spot OSU police officer sent him to his 72 virgins.
When it comes to Trump’s campaigning on “extreme vetting” and limiting immigration from countries substantially compromised by potential terrorists, Trump should have said about the 18-year-old Somali Abdul Razak Ali Artan, “Thank you for being my point.”
But instead — and this is quite the head-scratcher, even for those who are used to Donald Trump either missing the point or changing the subject — we got: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
Trump is wrong on the law and wrong on fundamental American principles.
But that’s not primarily what bothered me.
He’s talking about something that almost nobody in the United States thinks is an important political issue at this time, though it may flare up (pun intended) as one, if a bunch of liberals and rebellious libertarians decide to burn a few flags just to prove to Trump that they can.
But that’s also not primarily what bothered me.
He suggested as a consequence the loss of citizenship, something which (for natural-born citizens) is not available as a punishment for a crime except upon “conviction for treason or attempting by force to overthrow the U.S. government, including conspiracy convictions” and which would be a massive over-reaction to flag burning even it were available as a punishment.
But that’s still not primarily what bothered me.
He sounded like a petty dictator, unintentionally reminding us why he seems to have such a high opinion of “strong leaders” such as Vladimir Putin, suggesting, as if he is king or military school headmaster, that “there must be consequences” for exercising what the Supreme Court ruled more than 25 years ago (including with the assent of Justice Antonin Scalia) is a fundamental right.
And even that is not primarily what bothered me.
I suspect that Mr. Trump’s presidential style will be more like a chairman of the board, dealing with “the vision thing,” than like a president or chief operating officer of a corporation who would be more involved in day-to-day operations.
This possibility, perhaps probability, was made clear when, according to sources of mine who were in a position to know (as well as according to the NY Times), Mr. Trump’s team (including his son Donald Jr.) sought out Ohio Gov. John Kasich to be Trump’s running mate. Trump’s people told Kasich’s senior staff that Mr. Trump would want Kasich to be in charge of — wait for it — domestic policy and foreign policy.
When asked what Mr. Trump would be doing if that were the vice president’s job, Kasich’s people were told, “He’ll be busy making America great again.”
OK, that’s unconventional and maybe not optimal, but as long as everyone knows the score, I can live with it. And I think much of the country would breathe a sigh of relief, if Trump set some sort of pro-entrepreneurialism and anti-regulation, overarching vision and let Mike Pence manage the details, further farming out responsibility to members of the Cabinet.
In other words, the Trump presidency could be one in which Cabinet secretaries and other high-ranking officials set policy much more independently of the White House than we’ve seen in recent years, if ever. This, in turn, means that the Cabinet secretary selections are of more importance than we’ve seen in recent years, if ever.
And so when Donald Trump makes an important — and perfect — pick for Health and Human Services Secretary, naming Congressman (and orthopedic surgeon) Tom Price, currently chairman of the House Budget Committee and member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, it’s a BIG deal.
That is, after all, the person who will be responsible for implementing the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. And again, under a President Trump, the HHS Secretary will probably have substantially more policy maneuverability than did President Barack Obama’s two horrendous choices, Kathleen Sebelius and Sylvia Burwell, who were, no doubt, having their strings pulled daily by Obama and his henchwoman, Valerie Jarrett.
Although the selection of Price was rumored on Monday, it was made official Tuesday morning — at about the same time that President-elect Trump decided to tweet about flag burning.
In the past, Mr. Trump’s social media logorrhea distracted attention from the messages, such as they were, of his various political opponents. Today, he has no opponents of short-term consequence, so the only message-stepping he’s doing is on his own message.
Just think what Trump could have tweeted this morning: “@RepTomPrice best person to help repeal/replace #Obamacare.” Or, “Selecting an actual doctor to implement promised health care policy changes.” Or “@RepTomPrice wrote Obamacare replacement bill. Nobody knows issues better.”
Trump could have played to his base and far beyond his base to the many millions of Americans who didn’t support him or did so grudgingly because they know the harm that Obamacare is causing to our health care, our economy, and our freedom.
Trump could have shown that the media-obsessed reality-TV star is just a persona within a much more serious overall person. He could have demonstrated a realization that being president is much different than running for president (something you’d think that Barack Obama would have already told him repeatedly).
Instead, he showed himself to be persistently distracted, undisciplined, and strangely fragile of ego despite, having won an incredible and unlikely victory over the Clinton crime family and their “mainstream media” pawns.
So while Donald Trump’s recent tweets have been wrong on fact and principle, I’m fairly numb to that by now and understand it as rabble-rousing rather than expressing an actual belief. Whether or not I take the man literally is irrelevant.
Instead, what really bothers me, because it portends not just shaky thinking but shaky presidential skills, is that with one of the best and most significant Cabinet selections Mr. Trump has made to date, he personally did everything he could to ensure that the national conversation was about anything other than what’s truly important.