There has been endless discussion and much confusion over what kind of president Donald Trump will be. In foreign policy, is he the opponent of the Iraq War, or a leader staffing his administration with warriors? One day he meets with Al Gore, the next he appoints a climate change opponent to the Environmental Protection Agency. Who really is the next person to sit in the White House?
To understand how Donald Trump will handle the presidency, it is best to assume that there will always be three Donald Trumps--the policy president, the political president, and the emotional president--each operating alongside the other, simultaneously.
The policy president will be the most conventional. In the best article so far analyzing Trump's actual positions (as opposed to his rhetoric), Doyle McManus explained, "in Trump's picks for economic and domestic policymaking jobs, there's a consistent underlying thread. And no, it's not that so many of them are billionaires....It's Republican orthodoxy. Trump's choices have all been thoroughgoing conservatives who believe in the free market, deregulation and, wherever possible, privatization of government functions. Most of them could have been nominated by any GOP nominee...." Other evidence points to this conclusion as well. His economic leadership is as conventional a Republican business dominated team as he could pick, going with the same setup as George W. Bush, appointing Goldman Sachs veterans to head Treasury and the National Economic Council. The New York Times reported, "Business leaders, once wary, are now expressing excitement that one of their own is headed toward the White House. And Wall Street is bordering on the ecstatic. A month after Donald J. Trump's election, a series of pro-business cabinet nominations, along with promises to cut taxes, roll back regulations, invest in infrastructure and negotiate better trade deals, have conjured up the possibility, some executives say, of a 'Field of Dreams' economy." A subsequent article in that paper reported, "a majority of Republicans are overjoyed with Mr. Trump's other cabinet picks -- staunch conservatives in the world of education, health care and law enforcement...."
In other words, when it comes to policy, Trump is an extremely conservative Republican, not a new model. Think Rick Santorum or Paul Ryan as president.
Then there is Trump the political president. This is the figure that will utter intensely divisive comments to gin up voters, who attacks media, political correctness, and any and every group he feels he can get mileage from: immigrants, Muslims, women, the disabled. For this aspect of his presidency the top adviser is Steve Bannon, a self-described "disrupter" who revels in attacking the status quo and fanning resentment. This is President Trump working crowds, seeking support and votes at the expense of many Americans, to win elections.
And finally, there is the emotional president, the one who expresses neither policy nor political positions, nor the advice of advisers, but who has deep personal needs. A lot of what Trump does results from growing up with a father who, while economically successful, worked the low status outer boroughs like Brooklyn and Queens.
Quick interlude: I grew up in the Bronx, of immigrant parents. Early in college I decided to get my mother a gift from Tiffany's. Walking into the flagship store on Fifty-Seventh and Fifth, I selected an inexpensive item. An incredibly genteel older woman took my order; sitting at her desk she wrote out my order and filled out the form. When she got to the address I mentioned the Bronx; she looked across at me and as sweetly as you could imagine, inquired "Do they have a Zipcode up there?" as if it was the wilds of North Dakota.
Donald Trump felt this resentment, instead breaking into the elite Manhattan real estate market, something his father never achieved. Yet the insecurity remains. This is the deferential Trump, seeking approval from Barack Obama, a sitting president, or during a meeting with the New York Times' editors and columnists.
And this is also the president who tweets deeply personal resentments in the early hours of the morning. Lauren Batchelder, an 18 year old college student, had told Trump at a public rally she did not feel he "was a friend to women." Trump tweeted in reprisal that she was an "arrogant young woman" and a Clinton plant. Batchelder talked about what happened for the first time recently with a reporter for the Washington Post, and that paper described how, "Her phone began ringing with callers leaving threatening messages that were often sexual in nature. Her Facebook and email inboxes filled with similar messages. As her addresses circulated on social media and her photo flashed on the news, she fled home to hide. 'I didn't really know what anyone was going to do,' said Batchelder, now 19...." At the time Trump had 5 million Twitter followers; now he has 17 million.
McManus concluded his insightful piece, "in practice, Trumpism looks like mainstream conservatism plus tougher trade negotiations - and now, circuses. Just like the campaign." We are getting three President Trumps, not just one. The gifts continue to come.