Earlier this morning Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort said that Trump’s decision to cancel his vice presidential announcement in the aftermath of the terror attack in Nice was an “emotionally” driven one. The smartass wisecracks and snark lines almost say themselves: Just what you want in a President, someone who get emotional and reacts impulsively in the fact of a crisis.
I don’t find myself agreeing with Manafort often but I suspect he was accurate in describing the impulsive nature of the move. We all have emotions. We hope presidents won’t usually act on them. We hope especially that they won’t act impulsively on their emotions. It was one of the pivotal moments of the 2008 campaign when John McCain decided to ‘suspend’ his campaign in the wake of the unfolding financial crisis. I have no idea whether this fumble will play for voters in a similar way. But I think it’s actually much more revealing about the candidate’s character.
As a friend mentioned to me this morning, McCain’s move at least has the retrospective saving grace of being in large part a ploy or a gimmick. McCain was trying to show resolve, decision, command. But it backfired spectacularly. As of a few moments ago, we know that Trump has now definitively chosen Mike Pence as his partner on the ticket. But the most logical read of the evidence suggests that the last 48 hours played out something like this.
Trump more or less decided on Pence. Pence’s name was leaked, intentionally or not. But Trump perhaps hadn’t definitively made his decision. At least he didn’t want his hand forced by media leaks. So he was miffed. He also apparently hadn’t told his two dignity-drained manservants, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich, that they were out. Trump’s inability to break the news to Christie seems to have caused a snag in the expected roll out. NBC News reports a “tense” conversation yesterday between Trump and Christie in which Christie could see the writing on the wall but still wasn’t given a definitive word by Trump.
Trump seems to have jumped on the Nice tragedy as a way to call a timeout on a process that had left him miffed, feeling out of control and perhaps even doubting his decision. In short, it offered him a brief window to play for time. This seems amply confirmed by Manafort’s dancing and hemming and hawwing on TV this morning, probably not sure himself what was happening.
When the candidate is mercurial, impulsive and emotionally unstable you can’t ever know. No matter who you are. Probably not even if you’re Trump.
Of course, announcing his decision on Twitter at roughly the same time he’d planned his formal announcement torpedoes any idea that he wanted to delay the announcement out of respect for the victims of the Nice tragedy. Given that Pence was facing a critical election filing deadline in under two hours and probably himself couldn’t know for sure whether Trump was really, really going to pick him, it is not implausible that Trump was faced with some sort of ultimatum to irrevocably commit before the deadline past.
This is admittedly an effort to reconstruct some plausible explanation of an almost inexplicable and botched series of events over the last forty-eight hours based on the limited evidence now available. Whatever the precise details, however, it’s classic Trump – poorly organized, impulse driven and on fly, riddled with weird personal animosities and feuds.
Nothing is more revealing about Trump or the reality of what a Trump presidency would bring than the fact that rather than getting more dignified and mainstream as he moved toward the general election he has gotten more extreme and erratic. Just the same, rather than being more organized and planned; the ‘campaign’ has become more disjointed and unpredictable. None of this makes sense as the product of building an organization over time or moving from catering to a more extreme to more moderate electorate. It is all driven by emotion and impulse.