Trump being Trump vs a more well-mannered MAGA successor in 2024
“If he’d only been nicer,” I heard someone say a few days after last month’s election. Since the person is a recognized Trump supporter and clearly was referring to the apparent result of the vote, I gather the “he” she was talking about was President Donald Trump himself. As every political watcher from here to Timbuktu realizes, Trump acquired (or was assigned) a reputation for being coarse and nasty in his daily dealings with other people. No use disputing it, the president’s personality was an issue with this year’s electorate, too. Words like “divisive”, “unpresidential”, “despicable” and “rude” were bandied about during Trump’s tenure like please and thank you at a church banquet. Trump’s staunchest defenders, of which I am one, excuse his occasional boorish behavior as “That’s just Trump being Trump.” I had a Trump-voter friend tell me not long ago that he cringes whenever the man opens his mouth, saying “Sometimes I just wish he would shut up.” The outsider president’s act works well in a rally setting -- so much so that he could be the most popular politician of all-time to his devoted backers -- but there are other occasions where Trump’s peculiarly unique persona could use a firm slap on the hand from the Head Master’s metal rod. Now that the 2020 election count appears to be over and Trump will be a private citizen again in a little less than a month, Republicans and conservatives ponder his political future. Many/most are open to the possibility of another run in four years’ time, but it’s highly doubtful the “issues” that plagued Trump in the 2016 campaign and throughout his four years in the White House will magically fade away. After all, it’s just Trump being Trump, right? Can “The Donald” (his old business and celebrity nickname) do the unthinkable and tone down the excessive combativeness that likely cost him a few points this year? And if not, who’s the one to carry the MAGA torch? In a piece titled, “After Trump, what (and who) for the GOP?” longtime astute political observer Cal Thomas wrote at The Washington Times, “I have referenced Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address before, but it is worth remembering, even memorizing. At the dawn of the Civil War, Lincoln said: ‘We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’ “Could such an attitude have delivered a second term for President Trump? It might have swung enough votes to him from people who place a high value on deportment. “Republicans can continue to embrace Mr. Trump‘s policies while getting behind someone without his baggage. Who might that be? My view of the perfect candidate is Vice President Mike Pence, who has been loyal to the president without the name-calling, while preserving his own personality, dignity, Christian faith and kindness. Republicans could do a lot worse than Mr. Pence, but not much better.” There probably isn’t a Trump supporter in the nation who hasn’t had a similar thought pass through his or her brain since Election Night. The political odd couple that are Donald Trump and Mike Pence generated comparisons to the famous TV duo of Oscar Madison and Felix Unger (perfectly played by the inimitable Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, respectively), the former being an undisciplined, brash and free-spirited man’s man and the latter being neat, tidy, picky, fussy and perfectly mannered. One is certainly tempted to take Thomas’s road and brand highly restrained Pence as the perfect follow-up act to Trump. The 61-year-old Indiana native is thirteen years younger than the New Yorker, which means at age 65 (in 2024), he’ll be considered young and fresh by today’s political standard. It used to be said that Americans preferred more youthful and charismatic presidents, but the generality only applied to Democrats (John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter (age 52 in 1976), Big Bubba Bill Clinton (age 46 in 1992), and of course, Barack Hussein Obama (age 47 in 2008)) -- at least until this year, when the party split over 77 year-old Joe Biden and 78 year-old Bernie Sanders. Trump himself would be the same age as Joe Biden is now in four years’ time, which already places him at the top end of the spectrum. So, Pence is more than young enough. And he’s about as midwestern nice and polite as Trump is New York direct and churlish. The public impressions of the two men couldn’t be more different, though the Trump we see before the cameras and in campaign functions is not the one friends and family say is the real one. Believe it or not, Trump has regularly been known to offer astonishing acts of kindness and compassion. Maybe it’s a mood thing? At any rate, Pence would seem to be a more politically palatable version of Trump, but the question remains whether Pence could replicate the one-of-a-kind political force that Trump’s built in his five and a half years in the spotlight. Not only did Trump enter the stage in dramatic fashion, he pulled no punches from the get-go. Realizing that the Republican establishment was just as big -- or bigger -- threat to GOP success, Trump made an awful lot of enemies on both sides of the aisle rather quickly. The media hated him from the outset. But the stuffy Republican old guard did too. Trump dared to question the wisdom of the “War Party’s” neoconservative, Bush-ian bent towards international military interventions and the noble but foolhardy notion that spreading democracy across the world was worth the price of American lives and treasure. These were high ideals, the only problem being the nations receiving the help often didn’t want it and culturally, couldn’t/wouldn’t do as instructed. If every purple fingered Iraqi citizen was the Middle Eastern norm today, George W. Bush would be a hero the world over. The conservative grassroots loved Trump because he wasn’t like the Bushes, John McCain, Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Never having run for or held office, he was the ultimate outsider to come in like a proverbial bull in the China shop and wreck the place. Trump was even better than billed in this regard, working overtime to meticulously keep his promises to the voters. If he failed in any respect, it was getting government spending under control. Could Mike Pence follow-up? On the issue front, Pence could be trusted to continue Trump’s march towards bringing the nation’s economy and culture back to where it once was, a bow to traditionalists who still get misty eyed whenever the national anthem is played. One speculates that much of Trump’s seemingly perfect political discipline came from Pence. The former congressman and Hoosier State governor once had his own radio show, so he not only knows the issues, he understands how to talk about them too. Maybe having Pence there was like Rush Limbaugh being vice president and chief advisor to the president at the same time. Trump knows a lot about a lot of things and a little about a lot of other things, but Pence could’ve been the one to talk him out of bowing to establishment demands to trash the conservative agenda and just accept what they argued was a more politically neutral alternative. Could Pence step into Trump’s MAGA shoes? Like Thomas pleads, it appears so. But if Trump decides not to run again, there will be a good many Republicans vying for the honor of following the former president -- including a fresh contingent of party establishmentarians -- and there’s no guarantee that the former vice president would be granted an easy path to the nomination. Unlike with the Democrats, who felt compelled to settle for the Big O’s broken-down gaffe machine former number two (ahem, Joe Biden), Republicans actually have several excellent candidates to compete with Pence. Time will tell. One hopes that Pence could stir up the kind of emotional attachment that Trump did this year (and the former president might even be willing to campaign for him, too). Could a “nice guy” like Mike Pence be the answer to conservatives’ political dreams? It’s a risky bet, for sure. Could a newer, nicer Trump emerge to renovate his image in time for Trump Part II? It’s one of many a busy person’s favorite things to do in their free time, switch on the TV and turn the channel to HGTV. There you’ll invariably find programming that includes ripping down walls of old homes and installing new ones with fresh paint, updated décor and practical designs that make you say, “Hey, I want to do that to my own house.” Could Donald Trump similarly “renovate” his personality? At the end of the process, would voters like the new and improved Trump so much that they’d forget the past and take a chance that the new “residence” was worth the price of the upgrade? It would take a lot of doing and I’m not sure Trump would even agree to initiate the fixes. His list of statements is long and would require an awful lot of people to adopt situational amnesia -- and then he’d actually have to ask for forgiveness. There wouldn’t be a need for a complete makeover, mind you, since Democrats would never join up with him no matter how nice or forthright he became. Trump could help old ladies cross the street and personally hand out candy to orphans and lunchboxes to the homeless and liberals would still hate him. Trump’s history suggests he couldn’t become “nice” in the way his skeptics would require him to. Just a short rehashing of some of his more memorable verbal slings proves it. The fact is, Trump has managed to insult practically every opponent he’s ever had. At his opening press event at Trump Tower in June, 2015, Trump said of Mexico, “When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have a lot of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” No one gives him credit for the final utterance, just condemnation for the bad stuff. Trump had an explanation for his tiff with then Fox News personality Megyn Kelly during the first primary debate in August, 2015. “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes,” Trump told CNN’s Don Lemon... “Blood coming out of her wherever.” Soon after, Trump also managed to tick off fellow Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina by saying, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?! I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not s'posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?” (Note: Fiorina never got over the slight and endorsed Joe Biden this year.) How about John McCain? At an event in Iowa, Trump said, “Somebody should run against McCain, who has been, in my opinion, not so hot. And I supported him for president! I raised a million dollars for him. That's a lot of money! I supported him. He lost. He let us down. But he lost. So I never liked him much after that, because I don't like losers... He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
As one would surmise, there are many more examples of Trump being Trump. If nothing else, the man is quotable. It’s why the media loves covering him (even if they loathe him personally) because he gives them something to draw eyeballs and readers every time.
It’s definitely possible that Trump could “renovate” his personality and, with enough practice sessions with people like wife Melania and perhaps daughter Ivanka, could take the hard edge off of his more controversial remarks. It would take tremendous discipline and a new attitude, however. Whether it’s likely or not is another matter entirely. If it’s true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, then ripping out the old Trump quote machine and replacing it with a newer, more energy efficient “nice guy” model might or might not do the job.
People say it’s too early to be talking about 2024 and who will take command of the Republican Party -- and if that person can be as instantly credible and effective as Donald Trump was. Trump himself might be that person, but a tweak and refinement might be in order for him to accomplish it. American politics is never boring -- what will Trump do in the coming months?