The madcap caution of Donald Trump

The episode is another indication of the underlying modesty — not a word anyone ordinarily associates with Donald J. Trump — of the administration.

Subtract Trump’s taste for nonstop controversy and rhetorical brinkmanship, and you’re left with an incrementalist center-right government that has pursued an expansionary fiscal policy and avoided foreign war, for a period of peace and prosperity that — in any other universe — would be at the core of a stay-the-course reelection message.

Trump hasn’t spent political capital, as George W. Bush liked to put it, on a risky attempt to remake the Middle East or to reform the nation’s most popular entitlement program, Social Security. He didn’t, as Barack Obama did in his first two years, pass a sweeping domestic agenda toward the end of becoming a transformational president.

Trump largely spends political capital on tweets and other outrages, and much of his transformational energy is devoted to changing our norms for how a president speaks and behaves.