The humble Donald Trump.
Many political watchers probably thought they’d never hear the former president described in such a way. Adjectives such as “bombastic” and “unrelenting” and “unapologetic” and “uncompromising, stubborn, obtuse and temperamental” are more often employed to pin down Mr. Trump, a man so conditioned to “winning” and never backtracking that he’s built a career – and a lifetime – on being right about everything. Or at least lecturing that he’s never been wrong when it counted.
Fans of the 1970’s sitcom “Happy Days” recall its main character, Arthur Fonzarelli, was so averse to admitting being “wrong” that he couldn’t utter the word, his brain drawing out the one syllable so as to make it almost unrecognizable whenever the “cool” one attempted to say he was mistaken – or sorry. Trump hasn’t quite gone to that level, but it’s a rare occasion when the lifelong real estate developer, business tycoon and reality TV star concedes anything of substance.
To Trump, to go back on his actions is akin to General George Patton retreating in the face of the Nazis in World War II. It just wouldn’t happen.
That’s why it was somewhat surprising when Trump actually addressed problems from his first term last weekend. Savor the moment; such candor might not happen again. In a piece titled, “Trump Opens Up About Mistakes Made During First Term”, Joseph Lord reported at The Epoch Times yesterday:
“In an interview that aired July 16, Mr. Trump sat down with Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo to discuss an array of issues, including whether he thought he made any mistakes during his term. Ms. Bartiromo asked, ‘If there’s anything that you could look back on in  that you think maybe you want to do differently this time around?’
“Mr. Trump replied, ‘The mistake would be people. I mean, I wouldn’t have put a guy like Bill Barr in—he was weak and pathetic,’ a reference to his former attorney general, who has spoken out against Mr. Trump since leaving office and has expressed opposition to a second term for the former president. ‘I wouldn’t have put Jeff Sessions in,’ Mr. Trump said, a reference to another former attorney general with whom Mr. Trump clashed.
“’There are some people that I wouldn’t have put in. You know, most people were good. But I had some people—we had [former Secretary of Defense Mark] Esper. I didn’t like him. He was incompetent. I thought we had other people I didn’t like.’”
Ah yes, personnel issues. It’s one of a token few subjects where conservatives have felt justified and empowered to criticize the last Republican White House occupant, since it appears that the man himself harbors a smidgen of guilt and remorse over anointing some of his underlings who turned out to be less than loyal to him as well as incompetent in the job they were given.
It also shouldn’t be forgotten – or at least is fair game to remind folks – that Trump, in the 2016 campaign, claimed to know the best minds to staff his administration. As a successful businessman and maker of money, Trump frequently boasted about bringing in experts who knew trade, labor matters, economic growth, foreign policy, etc., as though it didn’t matter at all that he’d never been elected to any political office from high to low prior to it. These industry leaders would understand what it took to get things done, and quickly, and a Trump presidency would be smooth sailing for everyone from day one.
Now, six and a half years after taking office, we know it didn’t work out that way. No one should suggest Trump was naïve or hoodwinked by a small gathering of his initial appointed officials, yet even back then many of us could see the writing on the wall. Trump’s first mistake was allowing former RNC chair Reince Priebus to fill the slot as co-Chief of Staff after his swearing-in. For an outsider who came to power by vowing to drain the swamp, letting one of its foremost creatures help manage his day-to-day dealings wasn’t a good idea.
Establishment media reports indicated Priebus wasn’t provided much of a role – and therefore had little influence – but still, the appearance of a stodgy establishmentarian so close to Trump made limited government types suspicious from the get-go.
And what about his (albeit temporary) flirtation with Mitt Romney during Trump’s transition period? How awful would it have been to have flip-flopper Romney as Secretary of State? Probably as bad as it was to have Rex Tillerson actually serve in that role, another Trump boo boo that is largely forgotten these days.
It’s a bit strange that Trump should immediately highlight Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions as two “mistakes” from his four years because the two men certainly seemed capable and able at the time they were appointed. Sessions was a stalwart conservative senator from Alabama and had achieved notoriety for his aggressive stance on illegal immigration, which was to be the cornerstone of Trump’s presidency.
Sessions fell into disfavor with his boss when the Alabamian succumbed to pressure from the fake news media to launch an investigation into “Russian collusion”, which over the course of time turned out to be not only false, but poisoned Trump’s entire presidency. It permitted Trump’s enemies to question the validity of his 2016 win, but also contaminated the political waters on Capitol Hill, leading to the president’s agenda stalling and failing and eventually, impeachment.
It was a bad decision on Sessions’ part, but one can’t help but think Trump was originally prescient in offering Sessions the job. Of course, Trump had met with former rival Ted Cruz during the transition period, and it was rumored that the new president-to-be was probing to see whether Cruz would accept if offered. We’ll never know.
Meanwhile, Barr fell into disfavor for refusing to pursue numerous fraud avenues after the 2020 election, and Trump quickly dispatched him. Up until that time, Barr had led an honorable effort to enforce the federal laws against Antifa and other leftist miscreants who’d made the post-George Floyd incident social unrest so tumultuous. Barr is making the media rounds these days disparaging his former boss, and has become a leading voice in the Never Trump movement.
It's natural for Trump to name names as “mistakes” from the past, which not only provides him another occasion to dig at his latest political enemies, but also to lay claims to being older, wiser and more experienced for the next round of appointments which might be coming in less than two years. Trump now says he understands the swamp much better for having presided over the mosquito-infested bog for four years, but is the deep state truly conquerable?
To combat the “deep state,” Trump recently pledged to create a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to oversee operations from within the executive departments. This will be no small task, as the animosity of the career bureaucrats and unions is already built-in. One way or another, breaking the civil servants would be one of Trump’s greatest challenges.
In an obvious omission, Trump neglected to mention that retaining Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx during the earliest days of the COVID hysteria was one of – if not the – biggest errors in judgment in his entire presidency. The sorry topic of 2020 is fair game to broach to Trump, and he’s going to have to do better in listing his mistakes in the future if he wants to build on his prospects for a second term.
Here's thinking that his current campaign has included several flops in judgment, though the polls don’t seem to reflect them. Since his announcement, I’ve thought it was imprudent to take off after Governor Ron DeSantis the way he has, but no amount of opposite persuasion seems to have changed Trump’s attitude. Trump continues to hammer the Florida governor as a disloyal hypocrite who hasn’t been nearly as effective as the Sunshine State native has asserted, a tactic that might pay off in a GOP primary campaign but could hurt in the general election.
Trump’s nicknames were effective in 2016 – he successfully branded Marco Rubio as “Little”, Jeb Bush as “Low Energy” and Ted Cruz as “Lyin’” – and Hillary Clinton as “Crooked” – but there’s less urgency this time around to try and affix a label to DeSantis. Trump’s built what looks to be a nearly insurmountable lead in the primary polls, and the former president is making the rounds saying pretty much whatever he wants, but the game will change early next year when he's going to need the earnest backing of DeSantis and every other non-establishment conservative Republican.
Could Trump help his 2024 case by being humbler? The answer is an emphatic yes. The people who hate the previous president will always hate him, but there must be a small pool of “swing” citizens who detest senile Joe Biden and the Democrats so much that they’d be open to changing their votes (if not their minds) if Trump were to take the edge off of some his more hurtful barbs to appeal to those who seek a more “presidential” version of himself.
Trump can still battle his enemies (Democrats, GOP establishment, etc.) while broadening his political persona. It doesn’t have to be 100-percent attack, all the time. The Bush family and Paul Ryan will never be Trump fans, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some reconciliation to be had with former Trump cynics among the American people.
Donald Trump doesn’t need a personality makeover, but he could likely enhance his odds for a 2024 general election victory by being more open about mistakes he made in his first term. Personnel is policy, and Trump would certainly do better in his second go ‘round, but a little humility would also go a long way towards attracting the voters he’ll need to succeed in 2024.
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