Less than a month into the first term of his presidency, Politico reports, Donald Trump appears to be back on the campaign trail, heading for Melbourne, Florida, and one of his signature airport hangar rallies.
The Washington Post’s Philip Bump speculates that Trump’s outing is motivated by the simple need for an ego boost. It’s been a rough month. Heck, it’s been a rough week, marked by the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and the withdrawal of Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder, under shadows of different kinds. Rallies feel like ... victory. Trump knows how to pack a house and pump it full of feel good, taking away even more energy from his performances than he brings to them.
I’ve got an alternative theory: Donald Trump is the consummate politician.
Granted, he ran for president as “not a politician.” But there’s less to that image than meets the eye. Beneath the hype, hard reality: Donald Trump whipped 16 rivals for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, then went on to beat an “inevitable” former First Lady, former U.S. Senator, and former U.S. Secretary of State in the general election. Some “non-politician.”
One of the losing candidate’s long-time confidants, Sidney Blumenthal, identified an interesting modern political phenomenon in a 1980 book, “The Permanent Campaign.” Blumenthal’s thesis was that the political center of gravity has moved over time away from the smoke-filled party/patronage rooms — stable long-term concerns — and toward a constant short-term concern with more mercurial factors like poll numbers and public perception.
Trump is well known for his hyper-sensitivity to being perceived as anything less than top dog in every respect. He decries negative press and polling as biased and can’t wait to tout his latest triumph, even if he has to invent it himself (see, for example “inaugural attendance figures”).
It’s time to stop thinking of that as a character defect and recognize it for what it is. Donald J. Trump represents the pinnacle of the “permanent campaign” ethos. He’s all politician, all the time.
Ironically, Trump’s authoritarian stylings may end up producing results closely tracking direct democracy — rule of the majority, or at least the plurality, albeit on a drunken moment-to-moment lurch.
If so, I predict that his presidency, whether one term or two in duration, will validate H.L. Mencken’s conception of democracy as “the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
Thomas L. Knapp
Director, William Lloyd Garrison Center