On Wednesday night, speaking to a packed house in North Dakota, President Donald Trump seemed to suggest that this whole being President thing wasn’t so tough.
“The Heritage Foundation came out with a report, and this was as of two months ago, we’ve already implemented 64% of our top agenda items,” Trump told the cheering crowd. “And that’s at a much faster pace than even Ronald Reagan. That’s pretty good, right?”
That bravado was apparent, too, in Trump’s barrage of early morning tweets on Thursday. Breaking with his past refusal to impugn special counsel Robert Mueller personally, Trump tweeted, “When is Bob Mueller going to list his Conflicts of Interest? Why has it taken so long? Will they be listed at the top of his $22,000,000 Report…And what about the 13 Angry Democrats, will they list their conflicts with Crooked H? How many people will be sent to jail and persecuted on old and/or totally unrelated charges (there was no collusion and there was no obstruction of the no collusion)…And what is going on in the FBI & DOJ with Crooked Hillary, the DNC and all of the lies? A disgraceful situation!”
The reason for all that confidence? Donald Trump is, to borrow a favorite Trump word, winning – at least as he sees it.
His takeover of the Republican Party is complete. He made history in his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He overhauled the judiciary with a series of conservative appointments. And now he has the chance to change the judicial future of the country for decades to come thanks to the Wednesday retirement announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Remember that the President believes himself to be a great man – someone who bends the arc of history, who changes the course of a country or maybe the world. Sure, that’s a very big thing to think of yourself. But Trump has never lacked confidence.
It’s that confidence – many would say hubris – that led him to boast at the Republican National Convention: “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” It’s that confidence that allowed Trump to be unintimidated by the office of the President. It’s that confidence that allows him to insist that “the one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be. You’ve seen that, you’ve seen it strongly.”
Trump looks out at the country and sees events conspiring to make him a deeply consequential President. The chance to nominate two Supreme Court justices within his first 18 months in office is a ready-made legacy maker for a man obsessed with how he is perceived – both now and going by the light of history. The stunning decision from Kim to put denuclearization on the table, and to even sit across the table for the first time with an American president, was history in the making. The lowest unemployment rate in decades – including for women and African-Americans – is history. His standing among fellow Republicans makes him the most popular or at least one of the most popular Republicans ever.
“You know, a year and a half ago, they said I was an interloper,” Trump recounted on Wednesday night. “How bad is that? An interloper. And now they say, and you will admit, a thing comes out, a big poll, and a couple of polls. A number of polls that, ‘He’s the most powerful, most popular Republican in the history of the party.’ And a little while ago I was an interloper.”
Yes, the country Trump looks out on is more divided – and angrier – than we’ve been in a very long time. Yes, Mueller’s probe continues, with five people including Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman and national security adviser having already pleaded guilty. Yes, Trump’s approval ratings – when viewed for the entirety of his presidency – are historically low.
Trump may not even see those less positive elements of his first 18 months in office. Or, and this is much more likely, he simply doesn’t care.
Remember that his guiding principle is simply to be talked about. Through the light of history, that desire to be relevant translates into a desire to be remembered. To make the history books. To have an impact that no one can take away from you. The haters and the losers? They’ll always be there. But the winners write the history. And Trump is absolutely convinced that he is a winner.
You can dispute his own calculation of his own successes. But what is becoming more and more difficult to dispute is his import. Past presidents have openly pined for circumstances that allowed them to sit astride history, emerging as the great men they believe themselves to be. (Remember: Many “great” men are not “good” men.
Trump, whether through luck, his own actions or some of both – now sits at a potential crossroads of history. That’s an idea that cheers Republicans and terrifies liberals. But that moment is upon us. And Trump knows it.