Sunday read: You’re a clever one, Mr. Trump

Image from Time via
I hadn’t planned on reading another story about the election. The November 8 result, from my perspective, is depressing enough, and watching the parade of bankers, generals and industrialists make their way to Trump Tower to be anointed the president-elect’s cabinet is enough to make me take some Quietus.

But I started reading Glenn Thrush’s piece in Politico, overdramatically titled “10 Crucial Decisions That Reshaped America” (some editor has been staring at his Creasy too long), and was sucked in. And, frankly, I found it fascinating. It’s my Sunday read.

First of all, I give credit to Thrush for not engaging in the breathy recap we’re sure to get from Mark Halperin and that other guy, his partner, whatsisname. Thrush is generally fair and generally avoids twisting the knife with gossip and anonymous back-stabbing.

Also, he offers some interesting perspectives, particularly on the eventual winner. In private, it seems, Donald Trump was more clever than he seemed in public, even when he was spouting off. In the beginning, at least, he was clear-eyed about his chances and also opportunistic when the crowds started showing up, tweaking his applause lines for maximum effect.

And when it came to whether he should play to the head or the heart, he deliberately aimed lower. Roy Cohn taught him well.

But it wasn’t until the debate season began in late summer of 2015, by which time Bush had already plummeted to single digits in the polls, that Trump really found his voice: brutal, funny, fact-free, baiting and wildly quotable as he turned the well-mannered Bush into a 6-foot-3 human springboard for his own ambitions. And that was where Trump’s political imperative—to position himself as the ultimate outsider alternative in a field crowded with wannabes—fused with something more primal, even ugly, in Trump’s character. He didn’t just want to beat Bush; he wanted to prove his own manhood at Bush’s expense.

Bush is Jeb, of course. And he was more self-aware than I thought, too: After an adviser told him that his chances of winning were about 40 percent, Bush replied, “Oh, I think it’s a lot lower than that.”

How right he was.

Hillary Clinton comes off as Hillary Clinton: smart and on top of every issue … except herself. It’s not that she wasn’t aware of her poor personality as a candidate, it’s that she just couldn’t open herself up enough to put the most damning rumors — about the emails, of course — to rest. (Or at least as much to rest as possible, given her status among a certain percentage of the population.) In Thrush’s telling, she spent too much time listening to her lawyers and not enough to her campaign advisers. Too bad for her. Based on her own leaked emails, someone should give the straight-shooting Neera Tanden a TV gig.

Anyway, it’s well worth a read — devoid of sensationalism and arrogance. We’ll have enough of that when “The Hair Apparent: How I Predicted the Rise of Donald J. Trump” is issued from the bowels of some Washington insider.

You can find Thrush’s story here.


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