Presidential Temperament and Trump

His supporters says we need someone like him; he stirs things up.

Even some non-supporters gush that conservatives can learn something from him, like standing up to the news media.  Never mind that Newt stood up to the media in 2012, but with more deftness, tact, and intelligence than Trump does, yet Newt still fizzled out.

Why is this whole Trump project untenable and unwinnable in the generals?  Is the “Establishment cabal” holding him back, mysteriously manipulating people?

It’s not the “Establishment,” and it’s no mystery.

You’re learning all the wrong lessons.  History says so.

Let’s look at the past presidents and the current one in light of their public personae and temperaments – not what they did in private or their politics.  This temperament category is important because countless voters went for Obama, for example, on personality alone, and they wanted to have a first black president in 2008 and to keep him around in 2012.

So many people vote from their heart, not on complicated issues.  They ask, Is the nominee likeable, or is he angry and upset all the time?

In the following comparisons, a pattern will emerge, as you keep in mind Trump’s personality.

FDR: He set the gold standard for a great smile and American optimism from the left, overcoming his disability without a trace of public anger or bitterness.  In all the speeches I’ve heard in documentaries or read, he never called his opponents “idiots” or “disasters.”

Truman: He was a calm, soft-spoken Baptist from Missouri.

Eisenhower: He won WWII for the Western allies with calm confidence; he relieved Patton of his command for slapping soldiers.  As president, he was firm – he was once a general, after all.  But there’s no word on whether he lost his temper and angrily called his opponents “disasters” while the cameras were rolling and the press were around.

JFK: First president born in the twentieth century, he was attractive and had a winsome smile.  In public he made people think he was hopeful and forward-looking, not angry.  He was a genuine war hero, too, when a Japanese destroyer rammed his PT-109 boat, and he swam and pulled a man to an island miles away.  (I can’t be sure what unpredictable Trump would say about JFK’s heroism – hopefully nothing negative.)

Johnson: In private, he would grab his political friends and foes by the lapels and bully them, but in public speeches, he spoke slowly and with a thick drawl.  His public persona seemed calm.

Nixon: Not an especially attractive man, but he could smile and throw two-hand victory signs over his head.  In the Oval Office, he could be pushy and use strong language, but in public he was positive and spoke with conviction to my dad’s generation, WWII vets still alive and well back then, who voted for him over that “protester- and hippie-supported” McGovern in 1972.

Ford: Selected by Nixon, he was a nice guy, dull and boring, but naturally having an even public temperament.

Carter: Incompetent in foreign relations and economy, but he had a perpetual smile and calm exterior – another one with an even public temperament.

Reagan: Just as FDR set the gold standard on the left, Reagan set one for the right: great smile; smooth, calming voice; firm convictions; unquenchable optimism.  His one hard line during the campaign: “I’m paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!”  But he didn’t use the F-word in public or call his opponents “disasters.”  His winsome personality embodied Morning in America after the devastating 1970s.

Bush Sr.: He came across as an Eastern moderate.  Thatcher had to buck him up before the First Gulf War.  “No time to go wobbly,” she told him.  He didn’t even like public debates, as he was caught looking at his wristwatch in one of them.  He was no camera hog and displayed no public anger.  Wouldn’t be prudent.

Clinton: He took five seconds before he began speaking each clause, and still does.  He was calculating, and still is.  Even when he got just a little bit excited or angry, he blushed, but was still very controlled, even at the press conference about “that woman.”

Bush Jr.: Down-home Texan with a thick drawl.  “Noocl’r” is how he said “nuclear.”  Charming.  He came across as a nice guy you’d want to have coffee with, not a beer, for he was a repentant alcoholic who humbly asked God for forgiveness and grace – no arrogance before the Almighty.  At your coffee talk, he would probably ask more about you and your family than you could about him and his.  After he made you feel comfortable and you opened up and confessed some past sins, he would never angrily and judgmentally say, “You mean you actually tried weed once?  You’re a disaster!”

Obama: Recently he got upset at a journalist during the Iran deal press conference, but he didn’t go ballistic and angrily call him an idiot.  In speaking he hesitates more than Clinton did, becoming the Wizard of “Uhs” when he’s off his teleprompter.  But he doesn’t blurt out angry one-liners.  If he had come across as Rev. Jeremiah Wright in 2008, I bet very few black voters would have gone for him in the primaries.  Rather, Obama has a nice smile.  Nothing seems to ruffle him – certainly not like Trump.  He’s called “No Drama Obama” for a reason.

Do you notice what these candidates have in common – only in terms of temperament?  For starters, they didn’t angrily spit out regular insults like rotten teeth against their opponents: “He’s a disaster!”  “He’s not rich!”  “He’s an idiot!”  They didn’t use the “F-word” in a speeches, as Trump did back in 2011 in Las Vegas; they weren’t blustering, boisterous, boastful blowhards.  They left their adolescence behind.  Though they were humans and had their moments of frustration, they naturally enjoyed a high degree of public class and social dignity.

Temperamentally, they were everything Trump ain’t.

Trump’s supporters might tell us that we need someone for a change who “tells it like it is” (whatever the two “its” refer to) and who “shakes things up” (whatever “things” means).  We need some anger.  Only he would look the ayatollah square in the eye, for example, and tell him, “Didn’t you hear?  I wrote Art of the Deal!  I’m an expert!  I’m richer than you are!  You’re a disaster!  No deal!  You’re fired!”  (Never mind that none of his supporters can rightly claim that any current GOP candidate would sign the deal.  The candidates just don’t denounce it angrily enough for the supporters’ tastes.)

Mr. and Mrs. Standard American Citizen quite sensibly like their presidents to be rational, cool, calm, and collected – enjoying an even public temperament, with some inspirational passion (not angry passion).

In contrast, what about Trump?  Like it or not, he doesn’t fit the presidential temperament profile.  He comes across as an angry firebrand – the very thing that mysteriously attracts his followers, revealing, perhaps, their own personal anger and frustration.

The “mainest” points of all: Mr. and Mrs. Standard American Citizen are nervous around angry firebrands.  Too scary.  Too threatening.  Too many sudden moves.

Witness the calm, non-angry public personalities of the past presidents who actually won elections.

Presidential history proves that if Trump were, hypothetically and highly improbably, to get the nomination, it’s a “done deal” that the national election results would be…wait for it…a “disaster!”

James Arlandson, Ph.D. (1994), has written an historical fiction about his ancestor and the seventeenth-century real founding of America: Will Clayton: Founder, Quaker, and Demon Breaker.