A Tale of Two Trumps

The consensus is clear:  Trump’s political star is fading, but even some conservatives who embrace that narrative are simultaneously claiming his Presidency was “grossly underrated” and that he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.  How can we reconcile this tale of two wildly different President Trump’s?

Blame for midterm election losses.  Criminal convictions for his company.  A special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland.  Wild behavior on his social media platform including calls to suspend the Constitution.  A rising challenge in Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.  Between these developments and more across barely a month, former President Donald Trump’s political future in the Republican Party and nationally has never been more in doubt than since January 7, 2021 in the immediate aftermath of the riots at the Capitol Building.  These doubts have extended into conservative circles, not for the first time given the ongoing Never Trump movement, but perhaps for the most serious time.  David Strom, an establishment leaning conservative writing for HotAir.com, recently claimed the former President was committing “political suicide.”  “Donald Trump has been on a political suicide mission for a while now, but despite all his efforts he still has some substantial (if slipping) amount of political support. His biggest mistake up until now was to attack popular winners like Kemp and DeSantis. But apparently, the loss of support stemming from those mistakes was insufficient to knock himself out of the running for president.  Apparently, that seems to bother him. Like his friend Kanye ‘Ye’ West, Trump has decided to see how insane he can act before his support collapses entirely.”  Mr. Strom was reacting to the former President’s post on Truth Social after the publication of the Twitter Files revealed the company’s internal deliberations around censoring The New York Post’s coverage of Hunter Biden during the 2020 election.

In response to these revelations, President Trump wrote, “So, with the revelation of MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION in working closely with Big Tech Companies, the DNC, & the Democrat Party, do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION?  A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.  Our great ‘Founders’ did not want and would not condone False and Fraudulent Elections!”  Mr. Strom and others interpreted this, rather too literally in my opinion, as a call to “suspend” the Constitution itself.  Personally, I think the statement is far more traditional Trumpian hyperbole tinged with completely missed irony:  Twitter censored The New York Post, essentially suspending the First Amendment, one of the most cherished freedoms in the Constitution.  Democrat politicians also rewrote election law on the fly without the support of the state legislature, suspending another well-established principle in the Constitution.  What good is a Constitution if it’s only a straight jacket for one political party?  As the old saying goes, the greatest democratic document in history is not a suicide pact.  My point, however, is not to evaluate the merits of the former President’s statement, but to summarize the reaction.  In this regard, Mr. Strom questions both the political and ethical ramifications. Politically, “America is facing huge economic problems, international problems, and huge internal divisions that are tearing the country apart. Nobody but a small fringe wants to re-litigate the 2020 elections. Not only is that intuitively obvious, the 2022 midterm elections put an exclamation point on that fact. Candidates that looked back to the 2020 elections lost, those who looked forward to solving problems won.”  Ultimately, he concludes, “I think that most Americans will recoil at Trump’s outburst. I certainly did. And while many will indulge in an impulse to defend him because they have liked him, their zeal to do so will diminish over time. How much effort will most people want to put into defending the indefensible?”

Of course, you are free to form your opinion as to whether you agree more with me or Mr. Strom, or think something else entirely.  Certainly, there is some truth to the notion that President Trump is his own worst enemy. At the same time, we should consider another article from Mr. Strom less than a week later, stating emphatically that “Donald Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.”  The whiplash between the two illuminates this tale of two Trumps and the difference between the theoretical and the practical.  “I am pretty sure that my readers know that I am not a huge fan of Donald Trump, particularly the current version of Trump the candidate or Trump the celebrity.  Still, I think Trump’s presidency from 2017-2021 is grossly underrated, particularly regarding his outstanding record in foreign policy achievements.”  Here, Mr. Strom is reacting to the news that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the United Arab Emirates earlier this week, a trip that would have been unthinkable before President Trump got into office and forged the Abraham Accords, the first peace deals in the Middle East in a generation.  After noting that President Trump had perhaps the best foreign policy accomplishments “since Ronald Reagan, and certainly the best since George H.W. Bush,” Mr. Strom continued to state that he was able to accomplish the Accords and much more, even though “Trump was absolutely hated by our European allies, and equally hated by our international adversaries. That created the illusion that Trump was a terrible foreign policy president. Generally speaking, when everybody hates you it is easy to assume that you are doing something wrong.  Yet Trump was hated because he was doing almost everything right.”  In Mr. Strom’s view, this includes the former President’s skepticism of Europe’s reliance on Russia as a primary energy source, his desire to see them increase their military spending, and his focus on Iran and China as bad actors or even outright enemies.  “His advice to Europe was 100% correct…Trump, again, was right…lo and behold…he was obviously correct.”  He concluded, “Nobody has come close to the achievements that came under Trump’s leadership, and not one single MSM outlet or international organization has acknowledged that achievement in the slightest way,” and in this, “he was amazing. We should all recognize that as we look in the rear view mirror at Trump’s fading political fortunes.”

Incredibly, it never seems to occur to Mr. Strom that these two disparate sides of President Trump are inseparable, and indeed the secret to his success in the practical world of Presidential leadership.  He wants to consign the former President to the dustbin of history, even as he believes his Presidency, replete with many a hyperbolic outburst, is “grossly” underrated and his achievements rank up there with Republican legends like Ronald Reagan.  As I have argued previously, being a President is about more than being liked by the right people or even winning office in the first place.  It’s about being able to achieve things while in office, which Mr. Strom agrees Trump has done and yet he still insists he’s fading.  Perhaps even more ironically, he is aware enough to note that “Trump was hated because he was doing everything right,” but not enough to take this thought to its logical conclusion or to fully appreciate the ramifications.  Theoretically, there exists a Trump in some other universe that was able to accomplish these things without the ego, drama, chaos, combativeness, and hyperbole.  Practically, that Trump does not exist in this world, and there is an argument to be made that those very things contributed directly to his success.  President Trump can be seen as the breaker of paradigms:  He upended the Republican consensus on the border, international intervention, the use of American military and economic might across trade and negotiations with other countries, the scope of executive intervention in the economy, and more.  He did so because his ego insisted he could and fully knowing it would create chaos.  He also used a healthy dose of combativeness and hyperbole throughout, from calling for a “Muslim ban” and proclaiming the media is “the enemy of the people” during the campaign to his most recent statements on the Constitution.  At the same time, it’s impossible to believe either candidate or President Trump truly thought we could ban entry to the country based on religion or that all media sources, many of which he cozied up to over the years, were traitors and should be treated as enemies.  It’s not as if no one has previously claimed Trump was committing political suicide over a seemingly provocative tweet; the walls have been closing in for over seven years now.  Instead, President Trump’s statements like this and many more served a far less literal purpose:  He was and still is stirring the pot, provoking reactions from enemies and potential allies alike, and unwilling to back away from a fight no matter what the personal cost to him or his political standing.  This is why millions of people continue to support him despite recent (largely perceived) setbacks.  We believe the results speak for themselves and we don’t really care if he has a penchant for hyperbole.

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