The Washington Post Editorial Board thinks that former U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole is a doddering old fool for saying that Donald Trump has “the right personality” for the presidency. “Say what?” was the Post’s reaction to Dole’s assessment.
But the Post, like much of the media, is overlooking the fact that there are actually two Donald Trumps running for president in this cycle. One of them is the nativist bigot, who wants to round up 11 million undocumented immigrants and ship them back to their home countries, mainly Mexico and Central America. That’s because, you know, they’ve brought drugs, crime, they’re rapists, etc. He doesn’t say which of these offenses the thousands of unaccompanied minors risking their lives to get here are guilty of. He also wants to ban Muslims from entering the country and put the ones already here under surveillance. And he’s profane and incendiary about all manner of other issues.
This Trump has so masterfully mesmerized the media that the other one has gone largely unreported. That’s Trump the author of “The Art of the Deal,” the one who says that he’s a “little bit establishment,” which he thinks is a good thing because the president has to make deals with Congress, other countries and so on. I’ve never read “The Art of the Deal” and don’t plan to. But it’s a safe bet that the “art,” whatever else it is, isn’t a formula for walking away from the table with all the marbles. For all Trump’s bluster about how fabulous he is at “winning” (except in Iowa), that isn’t the way it works in the rarified real estate world in which he’s made his billions. Unless all his negotiating partners were morons, he had to be willing to give something to get something.
As Bob Dole explained to Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Michael Smerconish, that’s the Trump he thinks is presidential material. Noting that Trump knows many members of Congress personally and has made political contributions to Republicans and Democrats, Dole went on, “In my view, he has the right personality to work with members and make a deal. I don’t mean to give away the store, but sometimes you have to compromise.”
Now the most interesting thing about this split-personality-Trump has nothing to do with Megyn Kelly, disabled newspaper reporters or anybody else he’s disparaged and insulted. The real story here is that he’s teeing up his supporters for yet another in the decades-long string of betrayals Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne chronicles in his recently published “Why the Right Went Wrong.” As Dionne tells the story, conservatives since the 1950s have supported presidential and congressional candidates promising to undo the signature policies of the left, including Social Security, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. But election after election left those and other staples of the welfare state untouched, deepening the right’s bitterness and despair.
God knows, Trump hasn’t tried to hide his deal-making prowess. He doesn’t try to hide anything. But only a commentator here and there and some establishment Republicans reluctantly reconciling themselves to the prospect of his nomination are paying attention. Nor is everybody who’s caught on very happy about it. For example, syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell lumps Trump in with Congressional Republicans willing to cut deals with Democrats, comparing dealmakers to Neville Chamberlain, who thought the deal he brought back from Munich in 1938 would ensure “peace in our time.”
This matters because the media in their shiny-object rapture are feeding a delusion among Trump’s supporters that may send them around the bend whether he wins or loses. As Michael Tesler writing in the Washington Post reports, a poll conducted by Tesler, John Sides and Lynn Vavreck for the Rand Corporation shows that Trump’s base isn’t looking to him to repeal the welfare state. They’re looking to him to repeal the 21st Century during which they can expect powerful demographic trends to reduce people like them to a minority in this country within a few decades. And that sets up the same dynamic Dionne describes in his book.
If contrary to all expectations but theirs he wins, they’ll find themselves betrayed by the guy Bob Dole says has the right temperament to be president, the dealmaker willing to compromise with the opposition. If he loses, they’ll feel betrayed by whoever they think cost Trump the presidency, depriving them of the guardian of the majority status whose projected loss is freaking them out.
Megyn Kelly can take care of herself. But Trump’s mere candidacy is toxic because he’s raising expectations that can’t be met among his stressed and anxious supporters. It’s anybody’s guess how well the country will absorb millions of disappointed, embittered, despairing Trump voters.