What would a Donald Trump presidency be like?
Now that the press has more or less agreed that Donald Trump does actually have a plausible pathway to the Republican presidential nomination, the next logical question is whether he'd be a plausible president.
The answer is yes, he would.
Having spent time in the mainstream media's clutches, I still find it very implausible that he'll be elected. But if he does somehow manage that feat, the plate tectonics of politics will have shifted to a place where we ought to consider a presidency on his terms. (For a less sanguine view, former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett envisions a self-hating polity and a Trump recession.)
We've heard Trump throw out some pretty potent anti-PC troll-bait. He's offended "the women," "the Latinos," Asians, hedge fund managers, immigrants, "the blacks," Jews, Rosie O'Donnell, Muslims, China, Mexico, and Katy Perry. Also: Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, and, of course, Jeb Bush. For many Democrats (and increasingly, many Republicans), his boorishness is beyond the pale.
So if he became president, he'd face unprecedented and implacable opposition from the Democratic Party, which might be tempted to pilfer from the playbook of the pre-2015 Republicans and become the anti-governing party, so toxic to their sensibilities would Trump be by the time he's inaugurated.
But some of the opposition would be petty. If Trump made a move on immigration and Democrats blocked it, fine. If Trump proposed and found a coalition to reform entitlements and reconfigure the tax code, Democrats would find themselves opposing Trump just because he's an offensive, not-nice person of privilege. They'd have descended to his level to spite him.
That wouldn't work, because if Trump does manage to get himself elected, he'll be pushed into power by a coalition of angry anti-partisans who want problems fixed. I find Donald Trump's comments to be offensive. At this point in time, a lot of Americans evidently do not. It is hard to imagine how Democrats, having lost the 2016 presidential election, could rebuild their party by resorting to obstruction and denial.
So what about war and peace? Can you imagine Donald Trump's finger on the button? Today, a president can execute an emergency war order in less time that it takes to get a cheeseburger at McDonald's. Russia is once again baring its teeth, and a President Trump might have to contend with its incursions into NATO countries, triggering, one presumes, some sort of military response.
Despite all of his bombast, Trump hasn't called for nuking anyone. In fact, he seems to understand that effective foreign policy requires some continuity. He opposes Obama's Iran negotiations, but he's said that, as president, he'll make damn sure that Iran keeps its word. He understands why invading Iraq is the mistake that keeps on taking. We haven't heard him say much about foreign policy beyond that, other than his oft-stated promise to get rid of ISIS. And if Trump does send U.S. combat troops into Iraq and Syria, the military would probably support him. There is a sense, among the people who have fought wars, that Obama is absolutely determined to contain ISIS and then let his successor figure out how to kill ISIS. This is probably smart, but make no mistake: The military wants to be unleashed.
Okay, but what about getting things done? How can a my-Trump-gilded-way-or-the-highway alpha dog, the personification of Boomer narcissism, get along with anyone?
Trump wouldn't be able to do much of anything without the assent of Congress. But that Congress would likely be tilted towards him, given the composition of the electorate that would have to turn out in order to elect him.
Also, he's rich. He is less likely to feel the tug of special interest politics than just about anyone in the race. He will always be more beholden to his image, and to his core message, than he'd be to any donor.
And that's why, if he's elected, he would probably slow down and moderate. The crucible of a presidential campaign changes candidates. It is humbling. It is hard. It is exhausting. Trump might seem like his expensive suit has a coating of Teflon on it now, but that's simply because his opponents haven't yet discovered what his political vulnerability is. It's there, because he's human.
Here's a bonus: Trump often changes his mind, and doesn't seem to worry about appearing inconsistent. Presidents always change their minds, and they create problems for themselves when they try to fit their new views with their old ways. Trump's personality would be an asset here, if voters elected him knowing that he's malleable.
It might well be, the closer we get to the primaries, that his electability and temperament start to matter more to core Republican voters than it does now, amid the afterglow of the limbic arousal that Trump's candidacy is stroking. More immediately, the second debate, on Wednesday, will help us learn how Trump contends with Ben Carson, a challenger who is not Jeb Bush, and a man with credentials even more unorthodox than a billionaire real estate tycoon. Watching Trump take fire will fill in some of the nagging questions we have about how he'd take fire as president.