Make 2017 Last Year Again
President Trump is running for president for the first time again. On Wednesday night, he held a campaign-style rally in Cedar Rapids. It was so campaign-like that campaign staffers were there, it was in Iowa, and people listened to a Lee Greenwood song on purpose.
President Nixon gave a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars during Watergate for the same reason that Trump gave his in Iowa: He knew he wouldn’t get booed. Just as Nixon found an ally in America’s silent majority, Trump found 6,000 of them in downtown Cedar Rapids, and they were far from silent.
“We love you!” a woman shouted. “Thank you, darling,” Trump replied.
Trump spoke extemporaneously for 70 minutes about nothing in particular. His speech was sufficiently devoid of content as to be sufficiently entertaining. This was @realDonaldTrump in the flesh, tweeting out loud, before a friendly audience, and on TV. Instead of “likes” he received applause and a standing ovation.
He made a few impolitic remarks—such as “I just don’t want a poor person,” which is fun to quote out of context—and more than a few inaccurate ones. He denounced his critics—“the cynics,” “fake news,” “dishonest media corporations,” Democrats—but not the 57 percent of voters who disapprove of him. He boasted of his accomplishments (unparalleled “in the history of this country and maybe beyond that”), lamented his travails and declared victory multiple times. “All we do is win, win, win,” he said.
In typical meta fashion, he bragged to the crowd about how big the crowd was. “We’re not even campaigning,” he said, “and look at this crowd!” “Every seat is packed,” he said, neglecting the 500 seats that were blocked off. Still, it was a big crowd for an event with no specified purpose.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I think anytime the president can talk directly to the American people, that’s a good thing. … It’s good for the American people to be able to get a message directly from him.”
And what was Trump’s message? Simply this: “The truth is, people love us. … They haven’t figured it out yet.” In high school, this was my message to myself when girls rejected me.
When Trump speaks, it’s not because he has something to say. It’s because he wants to be heard. And millions of people listen. That’s how good he is at saying nothing.
Part of the reason our politics is so dysfunctional is that we reward successful campaigners and ignore or punish successful governors and legislators. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a former Harvard Law professor, rose to prominence because of her rhetoric and passion, not because of her intellect. Thanks to technology, we are transforming politics into performance art, and Trump is accelerating and exploiting this trend by pseudo-campaigning for a job he already has, just for the fun of it.
“You don’t want me to leave,” Trump told the crowd, right before he left. “I don’t want to leave, either.” As he left the stage, the song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” blared from the speakers.
Trump sometimes gets what he doesn’t want. He dislikes parties but still goes to them. In “The Art of the Deal,” he explains why: “I will accept an invitation many months in advance, thinking the date is so far off that it will never arrive. When it does, I get mad at myself for having accepted in the first place. But then it’s usually too late to pull out.”
Isn’t this precisely what happened when he decided to run for president in June 2015, accepted the Republican nomination 13 months later, and took the oath of office six months after that?
Campaigning for president, it turns out, is more fun than being president. Trump wants to make America great again, but not as much as he wants to make his presidency his campaign again.