- - Monday, July 22, 2019


Skill can be acquired. 

Talent you have to be born with. Politically, talent is located midway between the brain and the gut, a lightning fast instinct for recognizing and grasping opportunities, and an intuitive gift for spotting your opponents’ weaknesses, and exploiting them to the hilt. Donald Trump may not have absorbed the wisdom of the ages by reading the Federalist Papers and engaging in endless navel-gazing. He may be a political novice who launched his elective career at an age when most people are getting ready to retire. And, if you let his deliberately distracting barrage of tweets, seemingly gratuitous off-the-cuff remarks and frenetic footwork distract you, you might conclude that his mouth talks faster than his brain thinks.

That is certainly what many of his old business rivals, new political opponents and baffled, bitter members of the mainstream commentariat seem to have believed, usually to their own cost. Mr. Trump is like a man with a laser pointer teasing a cat; he calls the tune and the cat dances to it. Like the gods of the ancient pantheon, those The Donald would destroy he first makes mad. This talent is demonstrated on nearly every page of political reporters Alan Salkin and Aaron Short’s concise, briskly paced oral history, a compilation of eye-witness interviews quoted by name and on the record.

Politics isn’t beanbags; nerves of steel and a bullet-proof hide come in handy. Yet many politicians, especially those who hail from states where their party has a virtual power monopoly, have never developed either quality. Schmoozing, pandering to a few key constituencies and basking in applause while buttering up fat cats at fundraisers is pretty much the beginning and end of their political skill set, as illustrated by former Vice President Joe Biden, who failed miserably in the past when he tried to parlay these rather puny assets into a national campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

By contrast, Donald Trump went through the toughest career boot camp in the world half a century before he turned to politics. Surviving booms, busts and vicious competition in the Big Apple property market, he is living proof that if you can make it in New York as a generator of jobs and profits rather than as a political hack and raiser of taxes you can make it anywhere. The testimony of more than 100 people who have worked closely with the president and agreed to speak on the record to the authors, paints a fascinating picture of a man who may seem to be winging it, but who never loses sight of his long-term objectives even as he drives his opponents to distraction with spontaneous outbursts.

Under all the theatrics, there is a core consistency that can be traced all the way back to his parents. As Roger Stone, the cut-throat conservative operative I once described as “the son Roy Cohn never had,” reminded the authors:

Donald was a Republican for virtually all of his life. Both of his parents were staunch Republicans in their private leanings … I discussed it with both of them. Locally, his father contributed to Democrats, because the Queens machine controlled zoning and building. If you went to his office, he would have pictures of the mayor and the borough president, but in his personal politics, his national politics, he was a subscriber to the National Review, he was a major donor to Barry Goldwater, he had given to Billy Graham’s revival.”

In a crude age, with the left in charge of a debased popular culture and the so-called mainstream media, Donald Trump has succeeded in outwitting his foes by beating them at their own game: crude but catchy rhetoric, reducing issues to slogans and playing identity politics, but with the single largest identity group of all: The descendants of the men and women who fought for independence, won a war that freed the slaves and built America into the economic power house of the world and a beacon of freedom to all people, including the millions of legal immigrants who have contributed to our success. Simultaneously, he has maneuvered the national leadership of the Democratic Party into rallying around a handful of radical extremists who hate America, want an open border, would destroy free markets and generally make Donald Trump look like the soul of moderation by comparison (no easy feat).

“The Method to the Madness” offers clear insight into the strengths, weaknesses and inner drive of the most unusual man ever to occupy the White House.

• Aram Bakshian Jr., a former aide to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, has written widely on politics, history, gastronomy and the arts.

• • •

By Allen Salkin and Aaron Short
All Points Books, $28.99, 329 pages

Sign up for Daily Opinion Newsletter

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide