Commentary: Don't Expect Trump to Change on January 20

Jan 9, 2017

If, as the old saying goes, past performance is the best predictor of future behavior, then I have a pretty good idea of what we can expect from President Trump. 

First, he won’t change how he behaves after January 20.  Why should he?  He gets to give the inaugural address, and not Hillary Clinton, in part because there was one constant Donald Trump, the one we’ve known for years.  Love or hate how he behaves -- that’s how he’ll act when he’s president.  Indeed, “acting presidential” is how Donald Trump is behaving at any given moment.  It has nothing to do with people’s expectations of how a president “should behave.”

Second, Donald Trump doesn’t care what anyone thinks.  As he has said about himself, he’s pretty smart and knows more than the generals.  If you don’t like what he says or what he does, that’s your problem.  There is only one very interesting exception to this: when you attack him or his businesses personally.  He will go after you with a targeted Tweet.  A good example of this is the recent negative review of a restaurant in one of his properties and his response.  In my opinion the negative review was a deliberate provocation, designed to get under his skin.  We’ll see more of this.  Like I said, he won’t change.

Third, Donald Trump does not think politically in the Washington-D.C. political sense.  He is motivated by winning, but only in a business or a personal way.  The subtlety and nuance of Inside-the-Beltway wheeling-and-dealing is both beyond him and beneath him.  If this were neuroscience, the politicos operate by the prefrontal cortex and Donald Trump operates by his  brain stem, his instinct, the so-called “lizard brain.”  When the politicos and President Trump get down to business after January 20, it will be something like a Close Encounter of the Third Kind.

Finally, Donald Trump ran as a Republican but he is not a Republican.  The GOP was and is a conveyance of convenience.  I predict that his biggest early battles will be with old guard Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives and especially the U.S. Senate, and with establishment conservatives in the media and think tanks. 

Keeping in mind that Trump won’t change, that he doesn’t care what people think, and he does not think conventional political thoughts, we may get a 3:00 a.m. Tweet from him sometime early in his administration that says: “I’m an independent now.  Republicans are such losers!”

We are about to experience the old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

Dr. Terry Smith is a political science professor at Columbia College, and a regular commentator for KBIA’s Talking Politics