Instead of Evolving as President, Trump Has Bent the Job to His Will
WASHINGTON — For a man on the edge of history, President Trump sounded calm and relaxed. If he believes that he is on the verge of losing, he betrayed no sign of it. Instead, he trotted out one of his favorite polls, boasted about his popularity with Republican voters and talked about his convention’s television ratings.
His presidency, he declared in an interview this week, has produced “an incredible result.” The stock markets are “pretty amazing,” the Republican National Convention has been “very successful,” and he has “done a very good job” of handling the coronavirus pandemic even though more than 180,000 Americans are dead. At the same time, he said, he has endured “terrible things” by his “maniac” opponents.
After nearly four years in office, Mr. Trump heads into the fall campaign with a striking blend of braggadocio and grievance, a man of extremes who claims one moment to have accomplished more than virtually any other president even as he complains moments later that he has also suffered more than any of them. He inhabits a world of his own making, sometimes untethered from the reality recognized by others. He has imposed his will on Washington and the world like no one else.
While previous presidents evolved in office as they learned the mechanisms of power and adjusted their goals by the time they claimed renomination, Mr. Trump remains the same polarizing, dominating force of nature who got up four years ago and asserted that “I alone can fix it.” He has not tempered with age nor bent to convention nor been chastened by impeachment. He says he still considers himself “an outsider” even while occupying the highest office in the land.
In the course of a 40-minute telephone call on Wednesday, Mr. Trump struggled to describe how he has changed. “I think I’ve just become more guarded than I was four years ago,” he offered, a curious notion for the least-guarded man to sit in the Oval Office in a lifetime. “I think I really am a little bit more circumspect.”
By that he seemed to mean that he had hardened after the many investigations and political attacks that have characterized his presidency. But he is not one for introspection. How would he be different in a second term? Really not much at all. “I think I’d be similar,” he said. Which is exactly what his supporters want and his opponents fear.
Beyond more of the same, he has strained lately to define what his second-term agenda would be. Asked at various points, even by friendly interviewers on Fox News, he has offered meandering answers. His fellow Republicans seem no more certain. They therefore dispensed with a party platform altogether, opting instead for a simple resolution of loyalty to the president.
In the interview, Mr. Trump rattled off a list of what he has done and would continue to do, like increasing military spending, cutting taxes, eliminating regulations, reinforcing the border and appointing conservative judges.
“But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we’d have a very, very solid, we would continue what we’re doing, we’d solidify what we’ve done, and we have other things on our plate that we want to get done,” he said.
If he does win, his agenda to a significant degree may be set by external forces. He faces three overlapping crises buffeting the United States — the pandemic that still kills roughly 1,000 people every day, the resulting economic slowdown that idled another one million people just last week and the unrest touched off by a string of police shootings of Black Americans, most recently in Kenosha, Wis.
Mr. Trump has all but put the pandemic behind him while arguing that he is best suited to rebuild the economy. In responding to the debate over racial justice, he has characteristically sought confrontation rather than calm, disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement, blaming street violence on what he calls radical Democrats and presenting himself as a stalwart defender of the police.
特朗普几乎把大流行抛在脑后，同时声称他本人最适合重建经济。在回应有关种族公正的辩论时，他一贯寻求对抗而不是冷静，蔑视“黑人的命也是命”(Black Lives Matter)运动，将街头暴力归咎于他所称的激进民主党人，并把自己塑造成警察的坚定捍卫者。
Four years after his against-the-odds victory, he has claimed the nomination as the undisputed master of a party whose establishment did not want him. Those who stood against him have since been purged or have departed or have defected to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee. It has given Mr. Trump a unified convention and a party remade in his image to the delight of supporters who see him as their champion against an entitled, politically correct elite.
在以微弱优势获胜四年后，他以党内无可争议的领袖身份获得提名，虽然这个政党的建制派曾经并不想要他。反对他的人或被清洗、或已离开，或已投靠前副总统、民主党总统候选人小约瑟夫·R·拜登(Joseph R. Biden Jr.)。这给特朗普带来了一个统一的大会，以及一个按照他的形象重新塑造的政党，这让支持者们感到高兴，他们把特朗普视为自己的捍卫者，反抗自命不凡、主张政治正确的精英阶层。
“He’s going to be accepting the nomination as somebody who previously was an outsider doing a hostile takeover of the party,” Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, said last week in an interview. “He’s still an outsider, but he’s built a band of outsiders with him. The hostile takeover he started four years ago is now complete.”
The hostile takeover may be over, but the hostility is not. Mr. Trump hardly goes a day without getting into a battle on Twitter or on camera with some perceived foe. While many see him as the instigator, he sees himself as the victim.
Anyone who has watched the arc of Mr. Trump’s career in business, entertainment and politics should hardly be surprised. The thrice-married scion of a real estate family loved nothing more than a splashy ribbon-cutting and a sizzling tabloid item. As a reality television star, he moved beyond his bankruptcies to rebrand himself as the emblem of success. At every stage, he courted controversy, played on racial divisions and brushed off multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, including even lewd descriptions of women caught on tape.
He arrived at the White House in January 2017 as the first president never to have served a day in political office or the military and had little time for business as usual — or even the traditions and laws that bind a commander in chief. After a lifetime as a smash-mouth celebrity, he became a smash-mouth president. At 74, he turns to the same litany of political tactics he always has, just as he relies on the same vocabulary (“tremendous,” “incredible,” “nasty,” “believe me,” “winning,” “loser,” “disgusting,” “disgrace”).
At his first Republican National Convention, Mr. Trump called himself “the law-and-order candidate,” much as he planned to do again on Thursday night. When it looked like he would lose in 2016, he claimed the election was being “rigged,” a word he recycled this year while trailing Mr. Biden in the polls. Just this week, he challenged Mr. Biden to take a drug test, much as he demanded that his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, do last time.
Mr. Trump’s advisers said his refusal to bow to the Washington establishment distinguishes him from the rest of the political class. “If you think about it, Washington usually absorbs people,” Mr. Kushner said. “They come to town and they go to the cocktail parties and they go to the donor circles. Trump is one of the few people who hasn’t changed.”
“Instead of trying to change to get along with people,” Mr. Kushner added, “he’s doubled and tripled down on the promises that he’s made, and I think he has more conviction. There’s not a single policy where you have a question about where he stands.”
Mr. Trump has refused to adapt to the presidency, forcing it to adapt to him. When he took over, he started his days in the Oval Office around 9 a.m., but then complained to aides that he was working 12 hours a day and that “this is way too much.” Schedulers changed the routine so that his first meeting in the Oval Office rarely starts before 11 a.m., letting him watch television and make calls from the residence in the morning.
His staff grows frustrated when he sometimes does not show up until 11:30 a.m. or even later. But he has little respect for the schedule, turning a 15-minute meeting into a 45-minute session. When he has had enough, he bangs his open-palmed hands on his desk twice to signal that a meeting is over.
The president’s free-form style leaves aides scrambling. While phone calls with previous presidents were highly orchestrated affairs, Mr. Trump loves nothing more than to spontaneously call friends, lawmakers or people he just saw on Fox News.
Certain allies have instant access. When the Fox media mogul Rupert Murdoch once called while Mr. Trump was on the phone with his eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, his secretary, Madeleine Westerhout, asked if she should tell Mr. Murdoch that the president would call back. Mr. Trump “erupted like Mount St. Helens,” Ms. Westerhout recalled in a new memoir. “Never put Rupert Murdoch on hold!” he shouted. “Never!”