The fundamental premise of the Trump campaign was that if Americans would elect Trump he would switch sides and become a patriot, serving the nation to make it “great again” and serving some, albeit conspicuously not all, segments of Americans. He would, he claimed, do unto others on behalf of “us” what he had spent the first roughly seventy years of his life doing to more or less everyone he encountered regardless of creed.
Trump believed the polls well enough to recognize it was always a long shot, as ultimately reflected in his losing popular vote totals (the biggest total vote loss ever for an Electoral College winner, on low turnout). Not expecting to win, Trump did not take serious steps to prepare to actually enter public service or to game out his alternatives.
Having caught some breaks, he ended up getting the Electoral College and is now having to spend some substantial part of his time, and some attention on becoming a president. (Although not to the point so far of taking the situation seriously enough to moderate his behavior on Twitter or otherwise seek self discipline or gravitas in most situations day to day.)
How did Trump end up winning? While Trump’s style of bluster and aggressive and open dishonesty on the stump was not widely endearing, most Republicans were going to vote for anyone their party nominated period, at least so long as they campaigned as at least somewhat illiberal, assuring that Trump would be in a close general election almost no matter what. So in that way, the key threshold actors were the “leaders” of the Republican Party (full disclosure: I identified as a Republican from childhood, served in the Party for years and did not affirmatively quit until 2013.) In other words, Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan were the two Americans who had the most formal responsibility and actual power to determine the legitimacy and acceptability of Donald Trump as a prospective President of the United States (and the new ruling and defining authority in the Republican Party).
In the campaign, Trump’s staff and the Republican Party that he affiliated with to run for the presidency put together a tactical effort to target likely Clinton voters and dissuade them from voting that proved brilliantly effective for the America of now. America and Americans have been profoundly changed by Rupert Murdoch with Roger Ailes and Osama Bin Laden since the Clintons’ last successful campaign outside of New York. The Republican side understood that Facebook and email was far more important to the emotions that would drive the behavior of plausibly likely voters than a “ground game” of a generation ago when Bill Clinton got re-elected in 2006.
Ultimately Hillary Clinton was the Bob Dole of 1996–the candidate who would have won the general election eight years earlier had she been nominated then, but was no longer after waiting eight years in step with the times.
Some state governments managed to reduce voting by what they might call “undesirables” who were likely to vote for Clinton, while the Trump and Clinton campaigns combined to fire up “the deplorables”. Beyond that Trump got consequential help from Putin and at the last minute from the FBI Director, but there is no way to prove what would have happened without their actions nor are we likely to have much clarity about Comey’s intentions. (It is believable to me that Comey acted for reasons related to internal matters within the FBI, the Justice Department and the Government more broadly while expecting that Clinton would win anyway–presumably someday he will present an explanation in a book, by which time the consequences of Trump’s rise to power will be clearer.)
So now, like the proverbial dog who finds that the car he was chasing has stopped, Trump is confronted with what to do with his prize from winning the chase. The biggest hassle seems to be that taking the job threatens to cost Trump a lot of money as well as well as quite a bit of time spent in Washington away from his homes in New York, New Jersey and South Florida and some living in public housing. He has declared that any limitations on his business activities, and his residence, are to be negotiated or announced over time rather than governed by existing law and past practice.
Having no foreign policy experience and having been condemned publicly and privately by much of the cohort from previous Republican administrations, he seemed caught off guard by having to pick a nominee for Secretary of State.
Having Mitt Romney come to dinner at Trump Tower and contradict all of his previous expositions about Trump’s unfitness was a tour de force reminder of Trump’s tactical brilliance in accumulating personal power for himself and humiliating rivals and was important to firmly seizing control of the GOP from what we might call “the 20th Century Republicans.” It was not useful to finding someone that would be useful to Trump as Secretary. As the story has been told to us by the president’s people through the news media, man for all of Washington’s seasons Robert Gates was able to suggest to Trump his client Rex Tillerson who quickly became the natural choice for Trump. This might even be true even if it hardly seems likely to be fully explanatory.
Tillerson is surely better suited to be Secretary of State than Trump is to be President. (For that matter, better suited to be President.) The questions about Tillerson relate to problems about his relationship with a nefarious foreign autocrat with control of the worlds largest nuclear arsenal–as with Trump. Beyond business relationships, which include some other nefarious but less dangerous (to Americans and others if not to their own subjects) autocrats he seems to be a person of more conventional decency than Trump. (Full disclosure, I’m an Eagle Scout, too.)
Tillerson is a surely a loyal company man, having spent his entire career with Exxon Mobile, and it seems plausible to me that he could effectuate a switch of “companies” to work for the United States Government to run the State Department rather than running Exxon Mobile, in a way that for Trump, who so far as I know has never worked for anyone other than his father and himself, was never plausible to me. The problem with Trump’s Putin tilt and undisclosed interests and finances, and with Trump’s character, and with Trump’s willingness to actually change careers and orientation to serve as President of the United States will continue to be there whether or not Tillerson steps further forward out of the shadows to represent us as our chief diplomat.
Confronted with the idea of a less than ideal market to divest his business interests Trump has made it clear that he puts his own pocketbook first and Anerica second (at the very best) by refusing to divest. So now we know that Trump simply refuses to be an actual patriot after all. Contra our founding fathers who staked their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” on the idea of America, Trump, who has, to be direct, no obvious prior personal experience with honor, has said that a small reduction in his alleged $10B net worth is too high a price to pay to be a full-time President.
I do think that Trump will be well received by Kenya’s politicians, as well as those in many other countries on the continent, and I’m assuming his call with Uluru Kenyatta today went fine. Trump’s personal approach to public office will be more familiar and comfortable to Kenya’s leaders than that of Bush or Obama and his socioeconomic background more reassuring than someone as relatively exotic and self-made as Obama.
perhaps the only place and people that will be helped by Trump – oh, and the zillionaires hope you are well
Clark C. Gibson Professor of Political Science Director, International Studies Program UC San Diego La Jolla, CA 92093-0521 ________________________________
Thanks, Clark. It really seems that our democracy and Kenya’s have really come much more more alike over the past ten years–unfortunately the movement seems to me more on the U.S. side rather than Kenya’s. I’m fine, though, and hope you are, too.