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What is Donald Trump’s real agenda? Does he even want to be president? A fair case can be made that that has never been his goal. After his decisive win in South Carolina, as he was preparing to make his victory speech, he even said, “Who would think last June that we would be standing here? I thought we’d be, like, maybe in the middle of the pack?” He consistently does and says things that would by rights crater the campaigns of any conventional candidate. Most have seen this as the knee-jerk reactions of an inveterate bully, and certainly this is part of the mix. But on a much more subliminal level, can it be that Trump is actually trying to sabotage his own campaign?
By every possible metric, being president of the United States seems like a pretty tough job. Extremely important and immensely consequential decisions are a fact of daily life. Does Donald Trump seem like a worker? Don’t forget he didn’t exactly work to get where he is, starting out with a playing field massively tilted by tons of inherited cash. And even with those loaded die, he has managed to go bankrupt four times. He likes to make deals, he likes the limelight, he likes to give orders, he loves to build ostentatious monuments to himself ( latest idea in this direction: a border wall ). Plus, does the presidency seem like a job for someone afflicted with OCTD—-obsessive compulsive twitter disorder? I see no glimmer in this resume of even a flicker of interest in engaging intellectually with the nitty gritty of serious policy development and implementation. Actually, ‘intellectual’ in any context regarding Trump seems a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, we have had plenty of presidents about whom this would also be true. Certainly, he seems inclined to believe his own press, and he’s obviously pretty drunk at the moment on his own success. Perhaps he really does believe he can govern, as he has campaigned, by bluster alone. But actually being president would indubitably curtail the nice perks of his lavish billionaire’s lifestyle. For one thing, he would need to put all his assets in a blind trust. Of course, since he has shown a marked propensity to ignore other niceties of ethics and law along with common courtesy, he might well just bull on past this and many other pesky details. He has already promised to reform libel laws, no doubt to open a clearer path to governing through demagoguery alone. But there are other constraints about the fishbowl life at the center of the White House that seem certain to rankle an inveterate control freak used to getting his own way. Tiresome little details like constitutional law, judicial review, and a Congress even more obdurate about his whims than the one we have now.
What Trump is quintessentially about is the brand: creating the brand, marketing the brand, milking the brand. Running for president is the ultimate branding gig ( see Sarah! as in Palin ). Now he wants to ‘trump’ his Republican rivals to show that ‘Trump’ really is the most magnificent over-arching brand. As if right on cue, he gave his acceptance speech after his March 1st victories surrounded by about 10 different products branded ‘Trump’, nicely arranged for maximum prime-time camera exposure. His analysis that making his brand seem superior and larger than life by winning the nomination is probably uncannily shrewd and spot-on. If, that is , your ultimate agenda is the one that most obviously makes Trump tick: making money. And it’s a pretty safe bet that a good number of his supporters like to patronize casinos.
If this is the driving agenda, winning the Republican nomination makes absolute sense, the actual presidency much less so. In reality ( and reality, although often suspended lately, does kick in eventually ) a President Trump has overwhelming potential to crater his own brand, if for no other reason than that he is so demonstrably unqualified and certain to seem obviously way out of his depth, more likely sooner rather than later. Sarah Palin’s tour in the limelight is instructive in this regard
Trump is a crude, bombastic, misogynistic, xenophobic, bloviating bully, but he is far from stupid. I suspect he understands this dynamic better than anyone. Some might argue that his solipsistic glory-collecting rampage to the Republican nomination will destroy the Republican Party and the modern conservative movement ( the frenzy on this front has reached a fever pitch of late ), but the notion that these entities ( or their loss ) have any currency with Trump himself is laughable. As long as he’s on top of the fallen bodies instead of under them, he will march merrily on his money making way.
If his South Carolina comment is any indication, he is as surprised by where he is today as anyone. Obviously, as Obama did, especially in ’08, he has connected with currents he didn’t know existed, and he is happily surfing their wave. That is not the same as having earned that momentum. Any good or even middling businessman can tell you the tremendous significance of being in the right place at the right time. Generally, such businessmen have an equally keen sense of when to clear out.
There have been times of late that Trump seems to be actively believing his own shtick. The public was treated to the same dynamic with Sarah Palin. He has been less overbearing, even humble, in his acceptance speeches. He has had exchanges with the press that seemed more like actual press conferences instead of celebratory self-fests. There seems to be at least a tacit attempt to appear presidential in some of his recent outings, even professed moral outrage over Vincente Fox’s off-color comments about his proposed wall which, after a campaign littered with profanity of every stripe, is disingenuous at best. Assuming he continues to rack up delegates with aplomb in the coming weeks, this posture will almost certainly become more pronounced. He wants to win the nomination, no question about that, and he is both fueled and emboldened right now by the tantalizing taste of that victory. He is certainly giddy at present with the image of himself as President of the United States. But the most fantastic parties still have a morning after. And then what?
Most polls indicate Trump commands at best the support of 45% of Republican voters; in most areas, it may be closer to a third. His die-hard supporters will stick with him to the end; if they had liked some of the other Republican candidates, Trump’s own actions would have already scared them away. Because candidate choice is so closely linked to identity—-we want to ‘feel’ our candidate is ‘one of us’, someone we can trust to speak for us—-a very great many of these voters will never support any Democrat. It’s just too big a stretch for them in terms of who they think they are. If the Democratic nominee ends up being Hillary Clinton, that would be doubly so. A great many of these voters would never support any woman, much less one so closely identified in their minds with liberal Democratic elitism. But this constituency is hardly the sum total of the American electorate, and there are large swaths of that electorate for whom Trump as the actual Republican nominee would be incredibly galvanizing. The recent concerted and hysterical push by Republican elites to abort the prospect of Trump as nominee is probably a pretty good gauge of what we can expect, writ large, as we segue from nominating to presidential contests. Trump certainly knows this. In fact, he might very well, be counting on it.

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