A 7th grader recently gave this answer when he was asked why Abraham Lincoln succeeded:
"Well, I think Lincoln succeeded for numerous reasons. He was a man who was of great intelligence, which most presidents would be. But he was a man of great intelligence, but he was also a man that did something that was a very vital thing to do at that time. Ten years before or 20 years before, what he was doing would never have even been thought possible. So he did something that was a very important thing to do, and especially at that time."
No, that wasn't actually a 7th grader who didn't do his homework. That was the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump, who has obviously not given a thought to history of any kind since he put away his Prince Valiant comics. That comment is from the latest in a series of bizarre long form interviews with the press which was conducted by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of the Washington Post and may give the most insight into the mind of Donald Trump of all of them.
Many politicians robotically stick to their talking points. (Recall Marco Rubio's spectacular meltdown earlier this year.) But that is a calculated and practiced tactic in which the candidate uses every opportunity to get his or her message out regardless of the question. Trump appears to be doing something much more common and prosaic: He changes the subject when he doesn't have an answer to the question. He does return again and again to his talking points, but they are unrelated to policies and issues. Everything is personalized and refers back to his own experiences which appear to be quite limited for a man of his wealth and opportunity. Indeed, he seems to have decided very early in life on a set of simple beliefs about the way the world works and has never questioned them.
Pressed by Bob Woodward on the fact that he's alienated so many people in the party and will need to reach out and build alliances, he said this:
"The coalition building for me will be when I win. Vince Lombardi, I saw this. He was not a big man. And I was sitting in a place with some very, very tough football players. Big, strong football players. He came in — these are tough cookies — he came in, years ago — and I’ll never forget it, I was a young man. He came in, screaming, into this place. And screaming at one of these guys who was three times bigger than him, literally. And very physical, grabbing him by the shirt. Now, this guy could’ve whisked him away and thrown him out the window in two seconds. This guy — the player — was shaking. A friend of mine. There were four players, and Vince Lombardi walked in. He was angry. And he grabbed — I was a young guy — he grabbed him by the shirt, screaming at him, and the guy was literally. . . . And I said, wow. And I realized the only way Vince Lombardi got away with that was because he won. This was after he had won so much, okay? And when you have these coaches that are just as tough as him but they don’t win, there’s revolutions. Okay? Nobody. . . . But Vince Lombardi was able to win, and he got — I have never seen anything like it. It was such a vivid impression. You had this big powerful guy, and you had Vince Lombardi, and he grabbed him by the shirt and he was screaming at him, he was angry at him."
The assumption is that once he vanquishes all his rivals everyone will fear him and do his bidding. In other words, if you win you can get away with anything. That is his definition of leadership.
Lately the public and the political establishment are pressing him harder on substance --- or perhaps they're just taking him seriously at long last. Last week he stunned the country with his comments about punishing women for having abortions, a position he meandered into by failing to understand that the right has its own kind of political correctness. But what he has been saying about nuclear policy is so reckless that President Obama was moved to comment on it, saying "the person who made the statements doesn't know much about foreign policy or nuclear policy or the Korean Peninsula or the world generally."
Unfortunately, Trump didn't get the message and continued to insist that Japan and South Korea either hand over more money to the United States or build their own nuclear weapons. This comment at a campaign event on Saturday was chilling:
"I would rather have them not arm, but I'm not going to continue to lose this tremendous amount of money. And frankly, the case could be made that let them protect themselves against North Korea. They'd probably wipe them out pretty quick. If they fight, you know what, that'd be a terrible thing. Terrible. ... But if they do, they do."
Nuclear war would certainly be a terrible thing, no doubt about it. But what are you going to do?
The Woodward/Costa interview spent more time trying to get him to talk about economics and, as usual, he meandered around talking about himself and his business, repeating all his stock lines. But he did say a few things that made some headlines, particularly his belief that the country is currently in a "bubble" that's going to burst soon and throw the country into a terrible recession.
Basically, his "theory," if you want to call it that, is that the bubble has something to do with the 19 trillion dollar national debt and an outrageously high 20 percent unemployment rate (which he is aware of because his rallies are so popular) and a stock market inflated by cheap money that only rich people can access. This "economic bubble" is also due to the fact that the smart bankers who make $50 million a year aren't allowed to run the banks anymore and government regulators have taken over. So he is determined to slash taxes to the bone and also pay off the 19 trillion in 8 years. Needless to say the economy will be roaring because he will have made America great again.
And then there are all the foreigners who are humiliating us:
"Part of the reason it’s precarious is because we are being ripped so badly by other countries. We are being ripped so badly by China. It just never ends. Nobody’s ever going to stop it. And the reason they’re not going to stop it is one of two. They’re either living in a world of the make-believe, or they’re totally controlled by their lobbyists and their special interests. Meaning people that want it to continue. Because what China, what Mexico, what Japan – I don’t want to name too many countries, because I actually do business in a lot of these countries – but what these countries are doing to us is unbelievable. They are draining our jobs. They are draining our money.
"I can fix it. I can fix it pretty quickly. ... What I would do – and before I talk about legislation, because I think frankly this is more important – number one, it’s going to be a very big tax cut. You know, I put in a plan for tax cuts, and I’ve gotten some very good reviews. I would do a tax cut. You have to do a tax cut. Because we’re the highest-taxed nation in the world But I would start ... I would immediately start renegotiating our trade deals with Mexico, China, Japan and all of these countries that are just absolutely destroying us.
"We’re not a rich country. We’re a debtor nation. We’ve got to get rid of – I talked about bubble. We’ve got to get rid of the $19 trillion in debt." How long would that take? "Well, I would say over a period of eight years."
This post at the Washington Post's Wonkblog examines the specific claims and explains why they're bonkers although the idea that massive tax cuts and renegotiating trade deals would retire $19 trillion in debt in 8 years is so mind-boggling it's probably unnecessary to think too much about this.
You don't need to be an economist to question Trump's expertise. When Woodward pushed on the bubble issue, Trump tooted his own horn as an economic "prognosticator"
People would pay me money for speeches on success. So I would do that, before this. And I would tell people, don’t invest that, don’t go – I was pretty good at prognostication, at telling people what to do in terms of. . . . Now, I’d talk about success, but I’d say, this is a bad time to invest. I also said, this is a good time to invest.
If the past is any indication, if Trump says it's a good time to invest, your best bet is to take your money and run:
In the spring of 2006, the tycoon hosted a glitzy event at Trump Tower to introduce Trump Mortgage LLC, a new firm that specialized in selling residential and commercial real estate loans. He devoted a floor of the Trump Organization headquarters at 40 Wall Street to the new business. And his picture appeared atop the company website with the instruction: “Talk to My Mortgage Professionals now!”
“I think it’s a great time to start a mortgage company,” Trump told a CNBC interviewer in April 2006, adding that “the real estate market is going to be very strong for a long time to come.”
Within 18 months the housing market was in free fall. Trump Mortgage closed its doors, leaving some of it's bills outstanding and Trump blamed his employees for the failure.
The interview is long but it's well worth reading. It does leave you with a sense of a Donald Trump you don't normally see in such an extended way and it's downright surreal that he's very close to winning the Republican nomination for president. How is it possible that a man with such overwhelming solipsism and titanic ego can have so little knowledge to show for it?