On Thursday night, President Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination for a second term. Twenty-four hours earlier, he had a very hard time saying exactly what he would do with another four years.
“But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we’d have a very, very solid, we would continue what we’re doing, we’d solidify what we’ve done, and we have other things on our plate that we want to get done,” Trump told The New York Times’ Peter Baker.
Yes, that’s the quote. And no, it makes no sense.
Which really shouldn’t surprise anyone paying attention. Trump has repeatedly struggled to articulate why he wants a second term – and what he would do with it – over these last few months.
Last month, in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump offered this up when asked about four more years:
“One of the things that will be really great – the word experience is still good, I always say talent is more important than experience, I’ve always said that – but the word experience is a very important word, a very important meaning.
“I never did this before, never slept over in Washington. I was in Washington maybe 17 times and all of a sudden I’m the President of the United States, you know the story, riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with our first lady and I say this is great but I didn’t know very many people in Washington, it wasn’t my thing. I was from Manhattan, from New York, and now I know everybody. And I have great people in the administration. You make some mistakes, like an idiot like Bolton, you don’t have to drop bombs on everybody.”
(Sidebar: That is 138 words of not answering the question.)
Then, days later, Eric Bolling, an anchor for conservative Sinclair Broadcasting, gave Trump a second chance. Which he didn’t take. Here’s part of how Trump answered Bolling’s second term question:
“We’re going to make America great again. We’ve rebuilt the military, we have a ways to go. We’ve done things for the vets like nobody’s ever seen. We can do even more – we did choice, as you know, we did accountability. What we’ve done nobody’s been able to do. But we have more to do…
“…At the end of our first term, it’s going to be great, it would have been phenomenal. We got hit with the plague. At the end of the second term, it’s going to be at a level that nobody will have ever seen a country. We’re doing it, whether it’s trade, whether it’s military – all made in the USA, so important. Made in the USA. … We’ve got to bring back our manufacturing and I brought it back very big, but we have to make our own pharmaceutical products, our own drugs, prescription drugs.”
Again, what? Trump’s answers about his second term tend to be a recitation of what he did in his first term – and then sort of a vague promise to do, uh, more of that. Or, in the words of Vice President Mike Pence at the Republican convention on Wednesday night: “Make America Great Again. Again.”
Trump has never been a big planner – or someone who sees long-term. This excerpt from “The Art of the Deal” is one of the most important passages to understand both Trump and his approach to life – and the presidency:
“Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose. I don’t carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.
“There is no typical week in my life. I wake up most mornings very early, around six, and spend the first hour or so of each day reading the morning newspapers. I usually arrive at my office by nine, and I get on the phone. There’s rarely a day with fewer than fifty calls, and often it runs to over a hundred. In between, I have at least a dozen meetings. The majority occur on the spur of the moment, and few of them last longer than fifteen minutes. I rarely stop for lunch. I leave my office by six-thirty, but I frequently make calls from home until midnight, and all weekend long.”
“I play it very loose.”
“I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.”
“I have at least a dozen meetings. The majority occur on the spur of the moment, and few of them last longer than fifteen minutes.”
Trump is – and has always been – far more reactive than proactive. He isn’t someone any sort of blueprint he is following or even a general sense of where he would like a day/week/month/year of his presidency to wind up. Things happen. He reacts. Then he reacts to the reaction. It’s why Trump loves Twitter so much; he can gauge reaction in real time and then respond accordingly.
This approach, of course, has its downsides. Mostly that Trump’s first term has felt like a constant lurching between a panoply of issues and grievances as opposed to any sort of steady attempt to push a few core principles or policies. So, when Trump is asked about a second term, he’s unable to come up with any sort of cohesive answer – descending instead into a sort of laundry list of stuff he’s done (or thinks he done) in his first four years.
The real answer of what a second Trump term would look like? Exactly like his first term: Seat-of-the-pants decision-making, policy being created to fit a spontaneous tweet and lots (and lots) of chaos.