Is Donald Trump exactly what America needs, as his supporters have been saying all along?
Could an outlier president willing to smash all semblances of protocol and etiquette, who thinks nothing of publicly shaming manufacturers such as Ford and Carrier Corp. into keeping jobs in the United States, actually get the country back on a path to confidence and prosperity?
The answer, increasingly, and I never thought I’d be writing this, is maybe.
President-elect Trump is looking a heck of a lot willier to his detractors, including this one, than we ever imagined. After pulling off a sensational electoral upset, Trump immediately pivoted to respectability: He gave a gracious victory speech; withdrew his most controversial policy positions, and began appointing an impressive array of cabinet choices that have been both conventional and, potentially, visionary.
Liberals may not like his picks — conservatives love them — but no one can say they have been capricious selections. I am especially interested to see what Betsy DeVos, the outspoken school choice champion, can do for failing inner-city school children as the next U.S. education secretary. Watching the incoming health and human services secretary, Georgia Rep. Tom Price, disassemble and replace Obamacare with a plan harnessing free market competitiveness would be sublime.
At the same time, Trump hasn’t lost his flare for the dramatic. The elevator cam in Trump Tower, providing the world a live video feed of those being considered for offices as significant as secretary of state, is media candy. As a trained publicist, it makes me laugh out loud.
But here’s the thing: Can a President Trump keep it up? Can someone who needs attention like a junkie needs a vein resist the daily compulsion to jolt convention, often unnecessarily, for four whole years? No one, but the president-elect himself perhaps, knows.
What most relieves this 2016 Never Trumper, so far, is the ease with which Trump has walked back rabble-pleasing campaign promises. Rounding up every immigrant here illegally for deportation, for example, was an effective political cry. But unlike candidate Trump, President-elect Trump is demonstrating the mature understanding that dramatic cures can have consequences more dire than the illnesses they seek to treat. Appointing a special prosecutor with the stated goal of “locking up” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to name another, is electoral catnip. But would the resulting divisiveness and media distraction, not to mention the precedent, have been worth the pursuit? The president-elect wisely decided it would not have been.
Trump supporters appear largely undisturbed by theses changes of heart. They have been met with shrugs. The most quoted post-election observation written by The Atlantic’s Selena Zito explains why: The press took Trump literally, but not seriously. Trump supporters took him seriously, but not literally. Zito’s synopsis has the potential to make history books.
President-elect is making it exceedingly difficult for conservative dissidents to remain outside the fold. We like what we see. But enduring questions remain: Can the nation’s highest office sate the heretofore insatiable itch to continually shock? And can world leaders learn what Trump supporters innately understood: He is a man to be taken seriously, but not always literally.
Time will tell. But so far so good.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.