Tuesday, June 11, 2019


Writing for The New York Times, Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman hint at a question that they never quite ask: Why the hell is President Trump going to Iowa?
Late at night, using his old personal cellphone number, President Trump has been calling former advisers who have not heard from him in years, eager to discuss his standing in the polls against the top Democrats in the field — specifically Joseph R. Biden Jr., whom he describes in those conversations as “too old” and “not as popular as people think.”

... Mr. Biden seems to have gotten into the president’s head — at least for now. And on Tuesday, the president will engage with him, if indirectly, for the first time during the 2020 campaign when they both make appearances in Iowa.

Mr. Trump’s visit to an ethanol plant in Council Bluffs is an official White House event. But campaign aides see it, as well as a later appearance at a Republican dinner, as an opportunity to both troll Mr. Biden and invigorate a candidate who needs an identifiable opponent to keep his interest....
This is insane, for a couple of reasons. First, the just-released Des Moines Register poll of the Democratic field makes clear that Biden might not be the Democratic nominee -- he's still in first place in Iowa, but Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg are all within ten points of him.

Second, even if Trump believes he's identified his likely opponent well before the first primaries and caucuses, he shouldn't campaign against him in Iowa now, for the simple reason that Trump is the president of the United States. He has the opportunity to do something big and consequential and -- what's the word for it? -- presidential. Under roughly similar circumstances, Richard Nixon planned and then executed a world-historic trip to China. He didn't go to the Iowa State Fair to eat a friggin' corn dog.

Trump has no serious primary opponent. He doesn't have to grub for votes the way the Democrats do. He should be taking advantage of that. But he's upset because Biden is leading in many polls (as are some of the other Democrats, although that goes unmentioned in the Karni-Haberman story). Trump responds to the bad news with his usual fingers in his ears and cries of LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU:
After being briefed on a devastating 17-state poll conducted by his campaign pollster, Tony Fabrizio, Mr. Trump told aides to deny that his internal polling showed him trailing Mr. Biden in many of the states he needs to win, even though he is also trailing in public polls from key states like Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And when top-line details of the polling leaked, including numbers showing the president lagging in a cluster of critical Rust Belt states, Mr. Trump instructed aides to say publicly that other data showed him doing well.
But his other problem, I think, is that Democrats are getting attention. No one on earth should ever pay attention to anyone other than Trump! But instead of doing a big presidential thing in order to dwarf the Democrats, Trump is lowering himself to their level. I don't get it.

Karni and Haberman raise another issue: Why the hell does Trump want to run for reelection anyway?
Unlike nearly every recent modern president who sought re-election, Mr. Trump rarely if ever speaks to aides about what he hopes to accomplish with what would be a hard-won second term; his interest is entirely in the present, and mostly on the crisis of the moment. He has shown no interest in formulating a new message for his campaign, instead continuing with the winning “Make America Great Again” slogan from his last race and adding that he also wants to “keep America great.”

... with a limited policy agenda and little interest in governing, Mr. Trump has been running for re-election virtually since the day he won.
He wants to win because he wants to win. He doesn't want to win because he wants to do the job of president. He just wants to be president, because if he's president, that means you're not. If he won reelection, that means some loser lost to him.

So what would he do if he were reelected? We know he can't focus on policy now, except for tariffs and the wall, but would he even care about those anymore if he didn't have another election in the future to motivate him?

He might just stop working altogether. He might limit himself to golf, tweeting, and television -- no trade threats, no immigration crackdowns, no suck-ups to the religious right. If Democrats hold the House he might concentrate on not being impeached, but imagine him after a Republican sweep -- he might turn into Howard Hughes or Elvis, a recluse who barely leaves his bedroom.

I suppose he'd still sign bills and wave them at the cameras. I supposed he'd still pretend he knew something about the judges whose names were spoon-fed to him by the GOP legal establishment. He'd probably still do campaign rallies, even though they'd be campaign rallies without a campaign. But he might completely check out.

Or he might start focusing on inappropriate honors. Where's my Nobel Prize? How do I get on Mount Rushmore? Do I have to be dead before they put me on money?

It could be a bizarre four years.

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