It all started, as so many things seem to these days, with yet another tweet from the President while everyone was trying to recover from tryptophan overdoses. In the midst of any number of other pointless things we could have been arguing about, President Trump announced that he was pulling himself out of the running for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year honors, despite “probably” being the winner.
Time Magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named “Man (Person) of the Year,” like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 24, 2017
This elicited an almost immediate response from the magazine, claiming that the President had it all wrong. (Politico)
“The President is incorrect about how we choose Person of the Year. TIME does not comment on our choice until publication, which is December 6,” Time said in a tweet.
Trump was named Time’s 2016 Person of the Year, one month after his upset win against Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.
In past years, Trump has publicly derided out the magazine for not being selected. “Thank you @oreillyfactor for your wonderful editorial as to why I should have been @TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year. You should run Time!” Trump tweeted in December 2015.
The President is incorrect about how we choose Person of the Year. TIME does not comment on our choice until publication, which is December 6.
— TIME (@TIME) November 25, 2017
We have no way of knowing who specifically was tasked with contacting the Oval Office about a request to have him come sit for a portrait in the event that he was selected as Person of the Year. (An honor which has become more and more dubious over the decades.) What we do know is that if Time had told the President anything about who was or wasn’t likely to be selected they would have been breaking with a long established precedent. They tend to keep that decision very close to the vest right up to the last minute. And let’s face it, folks… if Time had told Trump that he was already being given the nod, do you believe he’d have turned them down? Unlikely to say the least.
Looking at Time’s history of presidents being featured in this fashion, Trump’s chances are actually fairly poor. They almost always feature the president immediately after their election, not after serving for a year in office. That’s what happened with Obama (given the honor in 2008 and 20012) and W (featured in 2000 and 2004). Neither appeared in the following year’s issue. Obama was followed by Ben Bernanke and Pope Francis, while Bush 43 was followed by Giuliani and “The Good Samaritans” respectively. Clinton was something of an exception to the rule. He was Person of the year after winning his race in 92, but in 96 Time honored Dr. David Ho, a pioneer in AIDS research. Ironically, Clinton got his second shot as Person of the Year in 98, following his impeachment.
In 1988 Time snubbed George H.W. Bush in favor of “The Endangered Earth” but they did feature him two years later in 1990. Oddly, the only president who seems to have been named Person of the Year two years running was Nixon. he was one of the winners featured after his 72 election victory (along with Kissinger) but was also the winner in 71, three years after he had been passed over in favor of the Apollo astronauts.
The bottom line is that it would be extraordinary for Time to pick Trump again this year. While we can debate the overall effectiveness of Trump’s presidency so far, there’s really nothing of a global nature in either a positive or negative direction which would seem to fit the profile of how Time tends to make these decisions. For all I know they’ll wind up giving it to Hillary Clinton as The Biggest Loser in American History or something.
With all that in mind, I can’t help but wonder (with a reminder that this is nothing but idle speculation) if Trump had already figured out that he was unlikely to get the call and decided to preemptively avoid the snub by saying he wasn’t going to accept it. If he winds up getting the award anyway (even without sitting for a fresh portrait) then he can still tack it up on his wall. If he doesn’t, then he’s covered. Hard to rule that possibility out entirely.