Judge Trump With an Open Mind
Critics should hope he succeeds, then put up a better candidate in 2020
If Donald Trump is willing and able to turn the page on the ugliness of his campaign for president, so, too, should the 65 million Americans who voted against him.
Trump’s critics should stop worrying about “normalizing” him and start assessing him by the actions he takes during the transition and as president. The question isn’t whether Trump is normal — for better and worse he is not — but whether the policies he pursues adhere to the fervor and fury of his candidacy or the sobriety that tends to wash over presidents as they take office.
There are reasons to be apprehensive. He ran his campaign in a disgusting fashion that stereotyped and diminished segments of the American public — as his opponent did at times (“basket of deplorables”).
Trump’s early appointments of Steve Bannon and Sen. Jeff Sessions, who are, at best, indifferent to bigotry and discrimination, recall his intolerance on the campaign trail. His revelation to The New York Times that he doesn’t want to “energize” white supremacists now suggests he understands that they were useful for him then.
His itchy Twitter finger betrays a degree of intemperance uncommon in commanders in chief.
None of that should be whitewashed, but it should be remembered in context.
There are also reasons to think that Trump will govern from a much different posture than his campaign rhetoric would suggest — that he might be able to help heal, rather than aggravate, the deep wounds in our body politic.
The great promise of Trump is that he will reshuffle our partisan decks and accomplish things for the American people that neither Democratic nor Republican presidents have been able to deliver. He has an opportunity to build bipartisan coalitions on trade, taxes, immigration, infrastructure spending and a host of other issues. His ability to do that will depend greatly on the details and whether he is inclusive in his approach to governance.
It’s incumbent upon all of us to judge Trump’s actions by their merits — not to support or oppose his ideas based on whether we voted for him. Because he is of neither party, he has a chance to transcend the bitter, divisive partisan politics that have gripped our government and our culture since the Baby Boomers came of age.
His choices for Cabinet-level nominations have been all over the place, but they do, collectively, show an inclusiveness on ideology and background. It’s heartening that he’s reached out to people with whom he fought during the election — Nikki Haley and Mitt Romney among them. Similarly, his distancing from sycophants in this process has been a refreshing change from his campaign days. Whom he chooses for secretary of State — Romney, Rudy Giuliani or someone else — will tell a lot about his interest in burying hatchets.
Overall, though, his Cabinet appears likely to have a few highlights and some people who are completely unqualified for the jobs to which they’ve been appointed. While it’s better to have a neurosurgeon in charge of urban policy than a city planner operating on brains, Ben Carson has no obvious qualification for the job other than having lived in a city before.
[Trump Cabinet Picks Incite Liberal Backlash]
It’s simply too early to tell which of Trump’s instincts will win out and at which times.
I know there are a lot of Democrats rooting against him. For some, they simply don’t want to reward his vile behavior on the campaign trail. For others, it’s a desire to see him fail to implement the policies he’s promised. And many just want him to perform so poorly that it’s easy for a Democrat to win in four years.
That’s the wrong way to look at the Trump presidency.
It could be that Trump will be overmatched by the presidency, beholden to the bigotry present in some of his base and wholly incapable of influencing lawmakers or fellow world leaders. His administration could be a complete disaster. But that would not be a victory for Americans, no matter their political preferences.
If critics want to defeat Trump in four years, they shouldn’t hope he fails — they should hope he succeeds and that they still have a better candidate than him in 2020. Presidential elections should be races to the top, not the bottom.
For now, though, it’s best to judge Trump with an open mind — wary of the worst-case scenario and hopeful for the best case.
Roll Call columnist Jonathan Allen is co-author of the New York Times-bestselling Clinton biography “HRC” and has covered Congress, the White House and elections over the past 15 years.