If you’re looking for criticisms of #NeverTrumpers, here’s one: Why can’t they get their story straight on whether he’s a dangerous fascist in the making or a lame establishment panderer who’s posing as a strident populist? Is his “temporary” ban on Muslims a prelude to mainstreaming religious tests in U.S. policy? Or is it cynical “boob bait” that Trump has no intention of implementing once it’s served his electoral ends? At any given time, Trump critics (me included) have argued both positions. Gotta be one or the other.
There’s an obvious rebuttal, though: We won’t know the truth until he has the nuclear codes in hand.
How lucky do you feel?
Paul Manafort’s description here of how Trump operates is exactly correct, by the way:
A Ban On Muslims: Democrats and many Republicans have hammered Trump on his call to bar Muslims from entering the U.S. until some unspecified future time when he deems it safe to do so.
“He’s already started moderating on that,” Manafort said. “He operates by starting the conversation at the outer edges and then brings it back towards the middle. Within his comfort zone, he’ll soften it some more.”
“He’ll still end up outside of the norm, but in line with what the American people are thinking.”
Right. Say something controversial to make a media splash (“mass deportation!”) then immediately begin walking it back (“all the ‘good’ ones get to come back in!”). We’ve been through that before so there’s no need to rehash. Suffice it to say, the reason Trump does that is because he wants to create the ambiguity I described up top. Most politicians resist being seen as two-faced. Trump is comfortable with it because he needs to somehow simultaneously convince populist reactionaries and middle-of-the-road swing voters that he’s one of them. He’s going to tear down the system and burn Washington to the ground! He’s also going to be a steady hand at the wheel and not do anything too destabilizing! The “radical policy that’s quickly watered down” strategy is his way of pandering to both audiences. Which is the real Trump? If I had to bet, I’d bet on “lame establishmentarian.” Am I confident enough to put money on that? Nope.
Here’s something from the same interview that’s getting attention today. I’ll defend Manafort on this — somewhat:
The vice presidential pick will also be part of the process of proving he’s ready for the White House, Manafort said.
“He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn’t want to do. He seems himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO.”…
The campaign probably won’t choose a woman or a member of a minority group, he said. “In fact, that would be viewed as pandering, I think.”
Um, it would be viewed as pandering. The same media that’s aghast that Manafort seems to rule out all qualified women/minority candidates as mere diversity picks would be the first to scream that a woman/minority candidate on Trump’s ticket was a mere diversity pick. I’m sure Trump’s base would view it as a diversity pander too unless the VP candidate has been aboard the Trump train for awhile. A Trump/Jan Brewer ticket would fly with no problem among Trumpers, especially given her history on immigration. A Trump/Cathy McMorris-Rodgers ticket would be seen as pure identity politics. If there’s anything interesting about what Manafort says here, it’s the fact that he’s prepared to exclude minority VP picks as perceived diversity panders when traditional presidential candidates are apt to include minority candidates on their VP shortlist for that very reason. That shows you how much Trump values his “politically incorrect” brand. I guess, if you’re running as the candidate of “identity politics for white people,” you might as well embrace it.
Never mind that, though. What does Manafort mean when he says the VP will be doing “the part of the job [Trump] doesn’t want to do,” a sort of national CEO to Trump’s chairman of the board? Is he proposing a de facto parliamentarian state with Trump as monarch and Prime Minister Newt Gingrich quietly running the actual government? I can see why that would appeal in some ways to the cult of personality that surrounds Trump — he’s too exalted to settle for something as grubby as being head of the executive branch — but the lure of President Trump, I thought, was that he’s a Green Lantern superhero. He and he alone, not Gingrich or Jan Brewer or anyone else, is capable of smashing the elites and repairing our shattered nation. If he’s planning to head to the golf course while Newt runs things, how about he just steps aside for Gingrich at the convention and makes things easier on everyone?
Exit question via James Poulos: Having a prime minister instead of a president would make sense in our new de facto four-party system, no?