LOS ANGELES, June 17, 2015 — Donald J. Trump officially announced his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination this week. After several flirtations, this time he publicly stated that he is running. The skeptics have a right to be skeptical. The question will continue to be asked: Trump is in, but is he all in?
Trump is simultaneously underestimated and overestimated. Those who deride him as a clown and a carnival barker are wildly off the mark. He is a spectacularly successful businessman who builds beautiful properties. He understands real estate development better than most people alive.
He may be the fourth greatest marketer in history behind P.T. Barnum, Madonna and boxing promoter Don King. His sales pitch is effective, but he also offers great products.
Trump values education. He likes people who pursue advanced degrees. He hires the brightest people because intelligence should matter.
Trump’s best quality is his insistence on his business being a meritocracy. He manages to hire people of all races and ethnicities without resorting to tokenism. Anyone who watched the first four seasons of “The Apprentice” saw Trump select two white males, a white female, and a black male as his winners.
Dr. Randall Pinkett was not chosen as The Apprentice because he was black. He was chosen because he was far superior to his competition. He won every task he led and had five degrees. That is the combination of education and drive that makes top talent, and Trump loves top talent.
His companies succeed because he believes in merit.
Despite coming across as self-assured to the point of cockiness, Trump is comfortable publicly admitting when he is wrong. If you give him a logical argument, he can be persuaded to alter his thinking. He is not a rigid, inflexible ideologue. He challenged one “Apprentice” candidate about why she dropped out of school. Trump saw that as a sign of quitting, and he detests quitters.
Finalist Tana emphatically stated that she left school to start a family and she was proud of being a wife and mother.
Trump instantly backed down and commended her decision and her backing it up. When he asked eventual winner Kendra Adams if her crying in public was a liability, Kendra cited Super Bowl champions crying when holding the Lombardi Trophy. Again, Trump conceded the point. He wants people to be confident enough to challenge him. He does not have a bunch of yes-men surrounding him.
Getting on top is tough. Staying on top is even tougher. Trump is known for writing “The Art of the Deal,” but a better book of his is “The Art of the Comeback.” In that book, he discloses how his business empire was threatened and criticizes himself for not maintaining his work ethic for a time. He honestly admits that he took success for granted and has not made that mistake since. He does not lack self-awareness.
To underestimate Trump’s many strengths would be wrong, but his weaknesses deserve attention as well.
Trump is solid on domestic policy. His economic prescriptions fit within the mainstream of the Republican Party and the nation. His foreign policy does not. He seems to be aligned with the libertarian anti-war wing of the Republican Party. While the neocons have taken a public relations beating in recent years, withdrawing from the world only leads to more global aggression and chaos. Trump says he would go after ISIS aggressively, but staying in Iraq would have prevented ISIS from ever existing.
Trump does not seem interested in obeying Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment, “Thou shalt speak ill of no other Republican.” It is one thing for Trump to bash President Obama and Hillary Clinton in his first speech. An introductory announcement should not include such slashing attacks on fellow Republicans. He implied that one of his opponents was stupid and another one was a loser. The GOP race features many solid candidates, and going negative on the very first day is not good. His brutal criticism on President George W. Bush will go over very well with the elite New York media and some paleocons, but many mainstream Republicans like Bush. It is one thing for a hostile leftist partisan leader to attack Bush, but it should be beneath the dignity of any of the Republican candidates. One can disagree with the Iraq War without skewering Bush.
Trump also has shown himself at times to be very thin-skinned and very ill-tempered. The latter quality hurt him in 2012. He was doing well in the polls before he referred to China in a profanity-laced tirade. His public use of foul language, while breathtakingly and refreshingly honest to some, offended religious Christians and others. Disciplined candidates do not curse at public events, especially with children in the audience.
When he was attacked by Rosie O’Donnell, he had every right to retaliate. He did so effectively, accurately predicting her self-destructive behavior. When he faced the mildest of criticism in recent days from Dr. Charles Krauthammer, he took to Twitter in lambasting Krauthammer. He even questioned Krauthammer’s intellect, despite Krauthammer’s being one of the finest minds the world has ever known. Many conservatives worship Krauthammer. It was a needless conflict.
Trump insists that his forceful personality will allow him to succeed where others have failed, but that is the same promise candidate Barack Obama made. Trump has far more experience, but governing does not allow for sheer will to translate to success unless one lives in a dictatorship. Trump cannot fire members of Congress. Even popular presidents struggle to get their agendas passed. If Trump tries to steamroll Congress, he will face defeats. The institution is built on inertia.
When all is said and done, the biggest and most justified reason for being skeptical of a Trump candidacy is that he always pretends to run and then bows out. He did this after hinting he would run for mayor of Manhattan, governor of New York and president of the United States as an independent and then as a Republican.
Trump did take extra steps this time, forming the exploratory committee and filling out the required financial disclosure forms. Filling out the financial forms is a very serious part of the process. However, he could run for a few months, drop out and still have time for the 2016 season of “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Trump is a sensible man, but his running for president of the United States does not make sense. The President does have access to the military. Being commander-in-chief is a big deal. Beyond that, being a captain of industry is more powerful. It is the closest thing to absolute power. When Trump gives an order, his subordinates have to carry out the order. He can hire and fire whomever he pleases. His word is law. Being president requires trudging through the snow of New Hampshire and kissing millions of rings and having his judgment questioned by ordinary Americans. This is before even getting elected. The president has to then deal with 535 members of Congress who will always choose their own district over the White House when push comes to shove.
Why would Trump want to have to stroke millions of egos to preside over a system set up to frustrate action? Trump is about getting things done. Business is about getting things done. The Founding Fathers set things up to make it difficult to get things done. Dealing with a zoning board or school board is nothing compared to a member of Congress under pressure at home.
Trump’s answer is that he loves his country. This is true, but is he really as altruistic as Mother Teresa? Does he just like confounding people? Is he running to prove his critics wrong?
Running for president would require Trump give up power and control. He just does not seem like a man willing to give up the powerful, joyful world of being Donald Trump for the sometimes thankless job of endless headaches and fickle approval ratings. He does not need Air Force One. His own private plane is fit for an emperor. Trump the business magnate is an emperor. Being a president bound by the Constitution is a step down.
Maybe he is just bored and sees running for president as the ultimate challenge.
Trump’s past non-candidacies allow for voters to question whether he really wants this job or just wants publicity.
He is qualified for the job. The next year will determine whether he really wants it.
President George Washington was the indispensable man who voluntarily gave up power for the greater good. Time will tell whether Donald Trump is truly willing to give up his own freedom and privacy for the constricting but rewarding job of helping America be the greatest nation on Earth.