"Grow up, Donald. Grow up. Time to be an adult," he said in an interview on PBS. "You're president. You've got to do something. Show us what you have. You're going to propose legislation. We're going to get to debate it. Let the public decide. Let them vote in Congress. Let's see what happens."
Biden's remarks came during a continuing stream of inflammatory Trump tweets, including ones that called Senate Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer a clown, mocked
America's intelligence agencies and gave credit to
Internet outlaw Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks site aided Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 election.
Biden's point is exactly right: If he is to be successful in his new role, Trump needs to make the shift from insurgent campaigner and tweeter to president of the world's superpower.
On January 20, as he takes the oath of office and the weight of the presidency falls on his shoulders, Trump will, for the first time in his life, be employed outside his family's business. At age 70, he will become accountable to the American people who will begin to learn whether this man with no experience in public service is up to the most demanding political job in the world.
Big adjustments in a long career
Has Trump ever made such a shift in roles? He hasn't had to reboot himself in anything like the manner now required. But over his long career he has had to make big adjustments.
For example, when his companies ran out of money to pay their lenders and filed for bankruptcy in 1991, 1992, 2004 and 2009
, he had to accept the strict terms and oversight required by bankruptcy agreements. The 1991 case was especially chastening, as Trump was even placed on a monthly budget by his creditors.
When Mark Burnett came to him with the idea for "The Apprentice" TV show, Trump had to overcome his natural reluctance when it came to firing people (he actually hates doing it)
And finally, when he rode down the escalator at Trump Tower in the summer of 2015, he had to assume the role of contender for the Republican party nomination. To woo the hard-right conservatives who provide much of his base in GOP primaries, he had to morph into a right-wing conservative even though he had once favored abortion rights, tax increases and stricter gun control.
The pivot that didn't happen
During the election campaign Trump was eagerly watched for signs that he would ease away from his bombast and offer more than rambling displays of emotion to the voters. In other words, we waited for him to become "presidential."
At that time the key word was not "transition" but "pivot,"
and Trump's advisors often predicted that a turn toward normalcy was at hand. At one point Trump himself recognized the need for change and announced
, "I will be so presidential you will be so bored. You'll say, 'Can't he have a little more energy?'"
The pivot never came. Instead Trump continued to improvise in response to news events, promoting doubt about his opponent while revealing few details about just how he would fulfill his promise to Make America Great Again. The strategy failed to win Trump a majority of votes. Indeed, Hillary Clinton bested him by nearly 2.9 million votes. But thanks to the Electoral College he won anyway.
After winning the election Trump remained devoted to his game of gesture and symbols, picking little fights with companies like Boeing and Toyota while foregoing serious work such as learning about national security in the formal briefings presidents have accepted going back to the Kennedy administration. As he neglects his serious duties in favor of indulging himself on Twitter, Trump tells us that he will not change his style merely because he was elected president.
Potential to change?
A president's style does matter. And so far, Trump's tweets have upset those who value stability in world affairs and generosity of spirit in the Oval Office. However the new administration's policies will matter every bit as much as its tone, and here the President-elect has demonstrated more flexibility than some would expect.
When his fellow Republicans moved to neuter the ethics board that oversees Congress, Trump objected
and they reversed course. More recently he has observed the rush to repeal the Affordable Care Act and warned the GOP to "be careful"
lest they create a problem worse than the one they claim to be fixing.
On health care and the ethics office episode, Trump deviated from his party's orthodoxy and aligned himself with what he believes most American people want. These acts displayed the fact that he is eager to be seen as decisive, and is more concerned with his own popularity than political orthodoxy. This is, after all, the man who just this week referred to himself as a TV "ratings machine" as he criticized
his replacement on "The Apprentice," Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Trump's policy adjustments may not show that he is a grownup in the sense that Biden prefers. But they do show he has the potential to transition from candidate to president. He'll likely remain a crude, insulting and ill-tempered man, but as a president he could still find a way to some success.