Donald Trump's self-affirming bubble
Who's going to tell him he's wrong?
Remember when Donald Trump talked about how he was going to become a different person for the general election? "If I want to be, I can be more presidential than anybody," he said, adding that he'll be "more presidential than anybody other than the great Abe Lincoln. He was very presidential, right?"
Well not anymore — the anticipated general election "pivot" to a more Lincolnesque Trump is off the table, at least for the moment. The presumptive Republican nominee has obviously decided that he's not going to change a thing, despite the fact that he now has to appeal to a general electorate that holds the candidate they've seen over the last year in a high degree of contempt. "You win the pennant and now you're in the World Series — you gonna change?" Trump told The New York Times. "People like the way I'm doing."
And it's not just his personality he'll be sticking with. In a separate interview with the AP, Trump said that he won't bother trying to mount a sophisticated data operation to identify and turn out voters the way Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012. "My best investment is my rallies," he said. "The people go home, they tell their friends they loved it. It's been good."
To which Hillary Clinton would no doubt respond: Sounds great to me, Donald. You do you.
Every candidate, particularly those who run for president, exists in a bubble. They all talk about how much they love getting out and learning the stories of regular people, but the truth is that most of the time they encounter only those voters who are already behind them — at their rallies, at their fundraisers, at their events large and small. And if people are always coming up to you and telling you how great they think you are, it's easy to believe that everyone loves you and you're going to win in a landslide.
Then there's the internal amen chorus that surrounds the candidate, the staffers and advisers who have devoted their lives to this cause. They're likely to tell the candidate how well everything's going, because they want to believe it themselves.
For Donald Trump, both layers of that bubble have even thicker walls than most. A well-known germaphobe, Trump refers to the custom of hand-shaking as "barbaric" and wrote in his 1997 book The Art of the Comeback, "One of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands, and the more successful and famous one becomes the worse this terrible custom seems to get. I happen to be a clean hands freak. I feel much better after I thoroughly wash my hands, which I do as much as possible." That's probably part of the reason Trump seldom talks to actual voters, instead preferring rallies where he can stand at a safe remove from his adoring flock. His only interaction with the common folk is a long-distance view of their worshipful faces as they tilt up to behold his magnificent splendor.
It doesn't get any more honest the closer people get to him. Trump is used to being surrounded by sycophants, and seems to have an almost pathological need to assert his innate superiority and impending victory in all things. Which means that not only will his people be reluctant to deliver bad news to him, it also means he's left to seek it out himself to whatever degree he finds pleasing. You can see it in his unceasing discussion of polls, at least the ones showing him doing well, which are "tremendous," in contrast to the ones that don't, which are totally unfair. And with so many polls being taken every week, he'll always be able to find an outlier to show him the truth as he would like it to be.
So Trump is unlikely to receive any information which suggests that anything other than glory awaits him. And should anyone suggest that things aren't going so well and he might need to alter his approach to the campaign, he'll respond, hey, I'm winning everything, so why change?
All of which bodes well for Clinton. But it's more important than just race-horse politics.
Unlike so much of what we spend time thinking about during the campaign, Trump's comfort in his self-affirming bubble actually provides some insight into the kind of president he would be. All presidents lament how isolating the job is; Bill Clinton, echoing Harry Truman, called the White House "the crown jewel of the federal penitentiary system," and Ronald Reagan would talk about his secret desire to "just walk down the street to the corner drugstore and look at the magazines. I can't do that anymore." Trump might find the isolation to be not much of a change from life atop his gold-plated tower, but the most important effect of it isn't in how the president feels, but in how he decides.
George W. Bush wasn't wrong when he labeled himself "The Decider." Much of what the president does is choose between the options laid before him, often with dramatic and far-reaching effects. In order to make good decisions, he needs information, experience, wisdom, and the ability to see all aspects of important issues.
Trump is not well-stocked with any of these things. But does anyone think that as president he'd be willing to hear bad news, seek to understand it and learn from it, and then make better decisions? Or would he be even more likely to believe, no matter the evidence to the contrary, that all his initiatives are smashing successes and all Americans are behind his every move? The more important the question — like, should we go ahead with this war? — the more consequential the limitations of his perspective would be.
As if you didn't have enough to be concerned about already.