Donald Trump has decided that he wants to be a media personality rather than president, and at this point, his subordinates should just let him. The 70-year-old man is set in his old habits. He courts controversy on a regular basis as he tweets about the cable news he watches. He even picks fights and demeans members of his own party. It would have been nice to not have this frantic orange man as president, but we can't undo the 2016 election. So while it's by no means an ideal choice, I think Donald Trump should just become further cemented as the Tweeter-in-Chief he already is.
Consider Donald Trump's choice of presidential activities, or more accurately, lack thereof. The man is clearly not interested in actually doing the job. For him, being president is a bully pulpit in the most crude and useless way possible. When he had the chance to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Donald Trump spent his days describing Paul Ryan's bill in such a bizarre way as to make one conclude he had no idea what the AHCA did. In fact, when one watches professional Trump fanboy Tucker Carlson ask Trump if he's aware his own poor rural white voters will get hurt by the AHCA bill, Trump simply replies that there's more time to iron out the details. Of course, Paul Ryan was rushing this bill so that no one found out the details, but you'd only know this top secret Washington-insider story if you read any failing newspaper brands. Alas, if only the president of the United States was privy to such confidential information like what his own party's leadership was doing.
After the AHCA fell apart like it deserved to, Trump decided to give a speech that very same day. During the speech, Trump concluded that due to the failure to pass the AHCA, Obamacare was going to explode, but that he was in no hurry to push for a new healthcare bill. This makes about as much sense as saying "There's a bomb that's about to go off" and "We'll get around to defusing it when we get around to it" in the same minute. This isn't even the first time Trump has manufactured a horrific crisis and then shrugged about solving it.
When it comes to discussing his immigration executive orders, Donald Trump has simply whined about the courts, and explained that he'd rather just go back to the first ban, unaware that a) such a statement will undermine his presidency in legal arguments about the ban and b) that you can't just go back to a suspended ban you haven't appealed for. Once again, Trump doesn't seem to know or care about how any of this works. President Trump explained that rushing these poorly written executive orders was crucial because terrorists might sneak in if, God forbid, the airports and officers carrying out an executive order were given time to prepare. But now apparently the spectre of terrorism no longer looms overhead, so it's not that big an issue to present competent legal arguments to judges. Once again, the crisis evaporates once effort on President Trump's part is required.
Maybe, just maybe, the president is aware that these statements and so many others on policy are incoherent and make no sense. But why do this then? What masterful, twenty-dimensional chess game is Trump playing that all of us simpletons can't comprehend? The answer is simple: Donald Trump isn't playing grand strategy, he's playing a B-grade celebrity who throws out crazy headlines every now and then, which is all he's ever done in his life. To give credit where credit is due, he did win the presidency doing this. But the election is over, and work has to be done.
This presidency demands even more emphasis on decentralizing the President's power than usual. The alternative is far worse.
So Donald Trump doesn't want to be president. Fine, let his subordinates like Defense Secretary James Mattis do parts of it. Sure, I'd rather he didn't shell Yemen into yet more famine and suffering for Iran hawk rationale, but Mattis is a curiously well-read and respectable man, or at least lightyears beyond Donald Trump. Indeed, some argued last year that Mattis should run for president. Those same Mattis 2016 fans might have their dream come partially true. Because among other things, Trump is too busy watching Fox News to read a drone-strike request, the process is now getting streamlined. This isn't ideal, as usually it's nice to have the president perform the tasks of the presidency. But Trump has decided that he doesn't want to perform those tasks and so it is ideal that this streamlining be replicated across the rest of the executive branch as is necessary.
One might be quick to argue that James Mattis is merely Secretary of the Defense Department, and therefore quite a poor replacement for all of the tasks of the presidency. This is correct. The good news is that the rest of the executive branch's appointees exist for all the other parts that aren't Defense. Is this going to be a poor stand-in for the president doing things? Yes. But it's all the better that this gets formalized and set so that Trump doesn't bust in the door later and demand a role.
The real risk inherent in this is not necessarily Donald Trump's disinterest in the presidency. It's that he might suddenly get very interested in the future. Consider a dramatic terrorist attack. Trump might decide in his egotistical certainty that only he can make our country safe again, and begin assuming a powerful role in national security discussions. This is a very bad idea, because when Donald Trump gets pushed to do things, he comes up with terrible, unethical ideas. When Ted Cruz was a couple points behind Trump in the polls back in December 2015, Trump decided to call for a ban on Muslims. Pressure doesn't make Trump create good ideas, it makes him feed the most inhuman and unethical desires of himself and his die hard fans. So it's better for all parties involved if Donald Trump keeps distancing himself from his duties. Most importantly, it's far better that Trump's appointees start learning to run things on their own and make it the norm.
When crisis strikes, have Mattis, McMaster, or others tell Trump to sign the necessary documents and tweet about how great it will make the country. In many ways, this is what every president has done, facing a series of tough choices to approve or deny. But this presidency demands even more emphasis on decentralizing the President's power than usual. The alternative is far worse. Let Trump go run off to another rally for no apparent reason. Mattis, Tillerson, and the rest will do just fine.
Photo credit Brigitte Brantley, Department of Defense