To believe this, you’d need to believe that Donald Trump has no interest in the presidency apart from its value as the ultimate ego trip, a supreme indulgence to vanity in which everyone he meets will now have to treat him as the world’s biggest big shot.
So, yeah: Highly plausible.
One day this past May, Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reached out to a senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who left the presidential race just a few weeks before. As a candidate, Kasich declared in March that Trump was “really not prepared to be president of the United States,” and the following month he took the highly unusual step of coordinating with his rival Senator Ted Cruz in an effort to deny Trump the nomination. But according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?
When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.
Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?
“Making America great again” was the casual reply.
Any reason to believe that, especially considering that Kasich and Trump are in a highly public feud right now which may end up costing Trump Ohio and the election this fall? Maybe this is just Team Kasich cooking up a sensational lie to humiliate Trump. Besides, if Trump’s thinking of deputizing his VP to run the government for him, it makes no sense that he’d make a unity pick like Mike Pence with whom he has no relationship instead of a more like-minded yes-man a la Christie or Newt Gingrich. But wait: Before you dismiss the NYT thing as garbage, remember this eyebrow-raising Paul Manafort quote from May, around the same time that Donald Jr was allegedly reaching out to Kasich?
“He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn’t want to do. He [sees] himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO.”
That’s a top advisor to the guy who’s running to lead the federal government’s executive branch telling you that his candidate’s not much interested in executive stuff. The reason that quote stuck in my head is because I remember writing at the time that it sounded like Trump was imagining his role as president as more of a monarch with the drudgery of setting policy farmed out to his “prime minister,” a.k.a. his VP. Now here’s the Times alleging that that’s precisely what Trump has in mind. President Trump’s duties presumably would be mostly media-related, giving press conferences, doing photo ops with world leaders, and donning the “MAGA” cap as needed to inspire America into becoming the winner it surely is. Negotiating with Congress over legislation would be tedium for his staff. (Case in point: The guy couldn’t be bothered to attend his own convention yesterday, preferring to phone something in from the comfort of home.) The one key exception, I assume, would be military matters, as there’s no way the King is going to pass on opportunities to exert life-and-death authority to some lesser bureaucrat. Trump himself will be signing off on the drone strikes and he’ll be making sure you know it. The point, though, given Manafort’s “chairman of the board” comment, is that he seems to have a more regal conception of the job than it already enjoys. I mean, look at these chairs. How could he not?
The irony of the “King Donald” approach to the presidency is that it’s simultaneously scarier and less scary than #NeverTrump’s worst fears. On the one hand, it’s another lurch towards monarchy for an office that’s already drifted too close to monarchical power. On the other hand, the chief worry among small-government conservatives is that Trump is some sort of proto-fascist who’ll undermine the rule of law. In reality, if you believe the Times and Manafort, Trump will be on the golf course while true blue conservative Mike Pence is running the administration, which sounds … okay. The danger lurking in Trump leaving a power vacuum at the top of the executive branch, though, is that it’ll set off an unholy competition among his inner circle as they jockey for influence over policy not unlike the knife fight between Manafort and Corey Lewandowski that’s been going on for months. Can you imagine VP Pence, chief of staff Newt Gingrich, Attorney General Chris Christie, and a few other big egos like Roger Stone squabbling amongst themselves on what to do about, say, immigration when Trump tells them “figure it out”? There’d be gunfights in the White House, likely with Pence sidelined because he lacks any like-minded ideologues at the top of the administration to support him. And meanwhile, on top of Trump’s own vacillations on policy, now we have the extra uncertainty of not knowing how much or how little he intends to delegate his authority and, crucially, whom he intends to delegate to. The Trump nomination is an almost totally black box.
But hey, it’s still possible that his aversion to the nuts and bolts of the job will lead him to quit before he actually takes office. There’s your exit question, I guess: What are the odds that Trump wins and (a) governs diligently, (b) rubber-stamps whatever his deputies want, and (c) resigns before the inauguration, leaving us with President Mike Pence?
Update: Good point by Ben Shapiro. I forgot about Trump’s Treasury Secretary in waiting.
LOL: Outsider conservative Trump wanted to delegate all policy to Kasich and wants a Democratic donor and Goldman Sachs guy for SecTreasury.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) July 20, 2016
That’d be Steve Mnuchin, who is indeed a Democratic donor and Goldman Sachs guy. Look at it this way, though: If Trump’s willing to let the RNC run his ground game, why wouldn’t he let the establishment run his administration?