In early 2016 I watched the presidential and Missouri gubernatorial campaigns with great curiosity. After the April GOP debate in Columbia not only did I believe that Eric Greitens would not be the nominee, I was fairly sure the most traditional candidate, Lt. Governor Peter Kinder, would be. During the spring GOP presidential candidate debates I did not know who the nominee would be, but I was fairly sure it would not be Donald Trump. Silly me. Silly lots of us.
Greitens is no longer governor but he certainly remains in the news. And Trump certainly remains president. It has been a while since I tested my four constants about President Trump, so I will today, and while I’m at it I will apply them to Greitens, since they are both cut from similar cloth.
Constant One: Trump’s basic style will not change. It has not. After 500 days he remains unpredictable, aggressive, disruptive and unfiltered. His business interests remain either out front or just below the surface. It is telling that one of his comments after the Korea summit was how suitable North Korea is for ocean-front hotel development.
Greitens was a maverick with national ambitions. His calculated insults of Missouri’s political establishment and go-it-alone style continued to his final day in office
Constant Two: Trump does not care what you think unless you attack him, his family or one of his businesses. Still true. Case in point is his personal attack on Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau after the G-7 summit in response to a perceived insult.
Greitens also did not care. He bypassed the press. His appeals were to his voter base, which had significant overlap with Trump’s, and especially to his mysterious donor base. He reveled in the establishment’s disdain for him.
Constant Three: Trump is not a Republican. This is still true and, astoundingly, the reverse is also true: The Republican Party is Trump. Recent congressional primary election results show opposition to Trump is not a career-enhancer. Former House Speaker John Boehner said “The GOP is taking a nap.” Maybe “in a coma” would have been a better phrase.
Greitens was a Democrat until he decided to run for governor in red-state Missouri. And once in office he made far more enemies among Republicans than Democrats.
Constant Four: Pay attention to what Trump does, not what he says. President Trump will say anything. We are not accustomed to this behavior from a president. But, because of the Constitution and other legal constraints, a lot of what he pronounces cannot actually happen. It is easy to get caught up in his sometimes-outrageous rhetoric and lose sight of what gets put into place with him barely in the picture or not at all, like federal judges and deregulation.
Greitens’ rhetoric and his actions also diverged. The best evidence I’m aware of is his endless stream of denials and counteraccusations, which suddenly seemed very odd when his resignation agreement said he was quitting because the government had the goods on him.
Greitens left office in disgrace, has no political future, and may still face serious legal problems. President Trump owns a major political party and is being touted for a Nobel Peace Prize. It’s a funny world.
Terry Smith is a political science professor at Columbia College and a regular commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics.