A president’s greatness comes down, in part, to how well he limited government abroad and at home.
Abroad, Donald Trump didn’t lead the United States into a major war.
At home, though, Trump signed off on swollen government budgets, didn’t force roll-call votes to fully repeal Obamacare, welcomed “Dreamers,” championed ill-conceived criminal justice “reform,” and greatly expanded public-health tyranny.
Trump championed “15 days to flatten the curve,” which never was going to age well. He championed COVID money-printing that poured gas on a long-raging fire at the Federal Reserve. Trump championed genetic vaccines that, over time, are proving deadly and debilitating. Trump didn’t weigh in upfront to limit massive unconstitutional changes in ballot-handling that led to the certification of votes not credibly cast.
Just as every essential idea of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was put into place by Herbert Hoover, every essential idea of Joe Biden’s COVID tyranny was prefaced by Trump’s decisions in 2020.
Trump looks even worse when he’s compared to his contemporaries. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis quickly sought bona fide nongovernment experts, turned on a dime, and used substantial constitutional powers to limit government agencies and cronies from impinging on people’s liberties. Representative Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) risked his career trying to block the COVID money-printing that bailed out Democratic politicians and amped up inflation.
In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was weak on Obamacare because, as governor of Massachusetts, he had championed Romneycare. As things stand now, Trump is weak on Republican-affirmed Obamacare, criminal justice “reform,” health tyranny, and inflation.
Inflation is going to remain hot even if Republicans regain control of the House and Senate.
Ronald Reagan knew that inflation meant that more money was chasing the same products, and he took the political heat to take the necessary action to bring it to heel.
Trump is smart enough to get this. Trump is agile enough to change course quickly.
But Trump’s family members are not and will not. And Trump has always put his family members first, ahead of Americans writ large.
Suppose that Trump’s momentum and marketing prowess dissuade and neutralize would-be Republican challengers. Trump would next face the hurdle that informed swing voters would need reasons to turn out to vote for him again. If Trump won’t give them reasons and loses the general election as a result, he would fall well short of great.
If Trump does manage to win a second term, he will have to turn around and make his mark in only four more years. If he continues his first-term policies, he would also fall well short of great.
One option, then, is simply to fail.
Another option would be to exit.
If Trump pivots to building his media empire and mercilessly pounding Democrats and the legacy media, he could successfully migrate his base’s enthusiasm over to fresh candidates who would eliminate Republican-affirmed Obamacare, end health tyranny, and slash spending to control inflation.
Such an eventual nominee would be much better positioned to win a full eight years to make positive changes and, like Reagan, have voters reap the benefits and credit him.
The nominee, and the voters choosing him, would have the benefit of all the recent hindsight that Trump’s presidency unearthed about existing departments and agencies. The right nominee would be ready from day one and would have surging support to be a demolition man par excellence.
Or, Trump himself could become that demolition man.
I can practically hear the warm-up theme song playing at his campaign rallies: “Don’t mess around with the demolition man.”
But greatness would demand action, not talk.
A president has the executive power vested in him. Executives control organizational structures, layoffs and hiring, projects, and operations, including line-item budgets.
Legislators constitutionally lack executive authority, just as they lack executive accountability.
Admiral Hyman Rickover understood executive accountability:
Responsibility is a unique concept. . . . You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished. You may delegate it, but it is still with you. . . . If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else. Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.
A president takes an oath to protect the Constitution. Protecting the Constitution requires that he be able to interpret the Constitution independently and not take any action that he himself regards as unconstitutional.
When he considers anything in legislation or in judicial opinions unconstitutional, a president who takes his oath seriously won’t simply veto all new bills or refuse to execute all new judicial opinions. He also won’t, as a matter of course, simply execute existing statutes and existing opinions blindly.
He won’t say he considers the Supreme Court’s abortion decisions unconstitutional but then still sign legislation to disburse funds to Planned Parenthood.
He won’t say he opposes the State Department’s support for color-revolutions and politically tilted investigations and prosecutions by the FBI and the Justice Department, but then allow those agencies to continue running amok.
He won’t say he supports ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine but then still allow the operation of the Constitution-defying FDA, CDC, and NIH, or any Constitution-defying government-funded research.
Instead, he will lay off every employee whose job or performance he considers unconstitutional. No reality-TV drama and suspense, just real-world action: “You’re fired!”
He will recommend to Congress that it formally repeal statutes he considers to be unconstitutional. And in order to be able to do these things, he will have built a party to do them.
A progressive president will hire and influence the permanent bureaucracy. Above all, a progressive president must sell its services to voters. He’s a government salesman.
A president who protects the Constitution must instead veto unconstitutional spending bills, reorganize, lay people off, and urge Congress to repeal laws outside the scope of the Constitution. He also will market the Constitution to voters, but chiefly through his actions.
In the wake of the progressives’ century, he would be a demolition man.
To be a great president, Trump would need to set aside the wars of words he relishes. Instead, Trump will have to make his actions speak for him.
And for us.