In 1980, as Ronald Reagan was cruising to the GOP nomination, former President Gerald Ford contemplated jumping into the race, because it was unfathomable to him that the country would elect someone as conservative as Reagan. “Every place I go, and everything I hear, there is a growing, growing sentiment that Governor Reagan cannot win the election,” warned Ford.
One GOP official summed up the “Reagan Problem:”
“There’s a vacuum of leadership at the national level; and what appears to be the Republican Party’s response? A 69-year-old man who has done virtually nothing for years. We’re at the same stage the Whigs were. There’s no choice.”
Several months later, it was clear that Reagan could win. And several decades later, it’s clear that he reshaped American politics.
Which gets us to Trump. Conventional wisdom is that when voters get serious he’ll fall by the wayside. And if somehow he was able to win the GOP nomination, that’s a gift to our next president, Hillary Clinton. For the record, this writer shares both of those beliefs.
But what if we are all wrong? What if Trump has tapped into a powerful current, much like Reagan did, and rides it to victory in November 2016? What would a Trump presidency look like?
Here’s a prediction: Trump would surprise most folks. Here’s why: he’d have to, because the bar would be so low that he could walk over it. Trump is many things, but he’s not dumb. He’d moderate his mouth, reach out in surprising ways and ultimately, the establishment would confine him. Just as it did that great “agent of change” Barrack Obama and just as it did Reagan 35 years ago.
Here’s a prediction: Trump would surprise most folks. Here’s why: he’d have to, because the bar would be so low that he could walk over it.
The first example would be Trump’s selection of a running mate. The overwhelming odds are that Trump would pick a young, up-and-coming Republican as his choice. Why? Because that’s Trump’s MO. So while a Trump-Rubio ticket would scare liberals, it’s not Trump-Kardashian.
And it’s inevitable that Trump’s rhetoric would moderate. Defending his support for Hillary Clinton in 2007, he explained it was merely the placations of a businessman who knows how to schmooze the powers that be to get things done. And that’s probably what President Trump would do. He’d moderate his rhetoric because he knows that’s what it would take to get along with Democrats or Putin or whomever stood in the way of the deal.
Because ultimately Trump is really about two things: “The Deal” and ratings. As long as he’s getting both he’s happy.
Actually, his thirst for deals would probably drive the far right of the Republican Party nuts. Because Trump really isn’t a conservative – if he has any actual true political beliefs at all. In January 2016, he’s morphed into a mad-as-hell conservative because that’s what his audience wants – and that’s what brings him ratings.
President Trump would also have a surprisingly complex record with women. For all his misogynistic comments – and his career is littered with them – he’s got a track record of advancing the careers of women who work for his companies. Ultimately, that would confuse a lot of people who like to put men in categories (just look at the challenges that women’s groups in particular had with reconciling President Clinton’s policies with his personal behavior).
Do I think Trump will ever get the chance? No. But I think if we’re all wrong it wouldn’t be the end of the world as most predict. Reagan entered office joking about bombing the Soviet Union out of existence and left as a peacemaker who helped end the Cold War.
Ultimately the office is bigger than the person. Even if that theory is tested by Trump’s huge ego, the office always wins out.