A recent poll found that 56 percent of Republicans would support Trump in 2024. They like Trump, and there is much to like: his administration was exceptionally effective — unless you’re a woke, racial-equity, New York Times-loving, neo-fascist … Democrat. But will that support survive four years of a Biden–Harris administration bent on undoing everything Donald Trump accomplished?
Under Trump, America became great again: the middle class went back to work, with women and black unemployment figures reaching record lows; Trump appointed more than two hundred constitutionalists to the federal judiciary; our enemies, primarily China, took an economic hit; NATO members started paying their dues; major agreements were signed in the Middle East; the US got out of the silly Paris Accords. And the list goes on for pages. Even on Google.
Many who like what Trump did objected, and still object, to his style. They seem not to realize that without that style he never would have been elected. The accepted wisdom in 2016, that anyone could beat Hillary Clinton, matured (in those people whose thinking was still capable of maturing) into the realization that only Trump could have beaten her. Partly, and perhaps primarily, he beat her because he did what no other candidate had ever done — he smote the media and trampled them under his feet. Yes, Trump appealed to the forgotten middle class, but it’s not clear that that appeal would ever have gotten through to his supporters without his public and signature disdain of the pointy-headed media gurus and apparatchiki.
Nor is it clear that any Republican can ever win again without the same constant smiting and trampling — activities requiring a combination of courage and skill not traditionally found in Republican officeholders.
So, yes, there was, and is, much to like in the iconoclastic Donald Trump. But there was, and is, a disconcerting stubbornness in Trump: a stubbornness that led to missed opportunities, opportunities that may not come this way again for a generation. Disrupters like Trump are rare: which means the missed chances to disrupt (and then accomplish) become understood as signal failures. And in 2024 those failures, along with his age, may well disqualify Trump, leaving the Republican Party with — who?
Did Trump have a single strategic failure that outweighed the rest? Yes. He never understood the importance of personnel. His failure had two parts: not hiring the people who could have helped him achieve (more of) the successes on offer; and not draining the swamp — cleaning out the civil service when he had the chance.
If you let the fox stay in the coop, it will eat the chickens when you leave, as we are now seeing. Where is the John Durham report on the legendary FBI misdeeds? Where is the prosecution of the Hunter Biden laptop case? Why is the FBI talking incessantly about a threat to national security coming from the right? Who will prosecute James Comey for misleading the FISA court? This column recommended in November that Trump fire the top one hundred people at all the agencies. At the FBI it should have been two hundred.
By the time of the 2016 election, the Heritage Foundation had prepared a list of a thousand or so people who were competent, ready and willing to join the Trump administration at all levels. Former Heritage Foundation president Edwin Feulner was even on a transition team, suggesting he had access to the Trump organization, and had that access because someone inside appreciated his extraordinary talents: Feulner is a first-class manager and a scholar as well (he has a PhD in political science from the University of Edinburgh).
Also waiting in the wings, not to go into the administration but to advise on personnel matters, was Donald Devine, head of the Office of Personnel Management under President Reagan, known affectionately by his friends as Reagan’s Terrible Swift Sword. (The civil service undoubtedly had a different name for him.) Devine’s book, Reagan’s Terrible Swift Sword, was a manual, waiting to be read, on how to run the US government.
Did anyone in the Trump administration read Devine’s book? Whatever happened to the Heritage Foundation’s list of a thousand people? Who knows? One rumor was that Reince Priebus (dismissed after only six months as Trump’s White House Chief of Staff) and former New Jersey governor Chris (“bridgegate”) Christie deep-sixed it. Another was that Trump’s son-in-law, New York liberal Jared Kushner, disposed of it. We don’t know, but it doesn’t matter: The buck stops with Donald Trump.
Trump’s skills were well publicized in 2016: his renovation of the Wollman skating rink in New York City is legendary. But his skills were not those of the head of a Fortune 500 company. He may have had a fortune of $3 billion, but he inherited most or all of it. There’s nothing wrong with that — unless you’re a woke, racial-equity, New York Times-loving, neo-fascist … Democrat. But inheriting a fortune doesn’t require quite the same skills as making one.
Trump was essentially a small-business man, a family businessman, not a corporate titan with a critical board of directors second guessing every decision. He was not a titan at all, not of any kind. He certainly has skills: only a fool, or a … Democrat, would deny that. But one skill Trump did not have, probably because the business he ran didn’t require it, was understanding the importance of personnel. At least in government, people are policy, because the president can’t make all the policy himself. Trump’s lack of understanding that point makes his successes, hundreds of them, all the more remarkable.
But it also, as we have already seen, makes his many successes less permanent. And that means that the 56 percent of Republicans who say they would support him today may feel differently in 2024.
Still, if it’s true that you can’t beat somebody with nobody, Trump has the edge, now, and is likely to keep it unless somebody comes along who is willing to engage in political battle the way he does.
Daniel Oliver is Chairman of the Board of the Education and Research Institute and a Director of Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy in San Francisco. In addition to serving as Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Reagan, he was Executive Editor and subsequently Chairman of the Board of William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review.