Nothing he says matters, except when he takes back what he's said as if he never said it.
Donald Trump. Who else?
He lives in the immediately televised moment. He lives elsewhere when the television image changes or when the power on the remote is clicked off.
So when the immediately televised moment reveals to him that the nation is aghast that, within hours, men in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, used semiautomatic weapons to gun down dozens of people, he declares to assembled reporters that there is great bipartisan agreement on background checks and that we're going to see something "strong" on that subject.
Then the televised moment passes.
Then he lives for a while by what daughter Ivanka says to him. He thinks she's smart. He thinks she's pretty. At times he seeks approval from her younger elite set.
So when she tells Daddy that people today want tougher background checks, and that she's been on the phone with Senators Mitch McConnell and Joe Manchin and Patrick Toomey and that there may be a good appetite and climate for background checks, he wants to please her and appeal to that sentiment.
But then, the cable news stations move on to something else--as they must, news and business plans being as they are--and Ivanka and family go away from Daddy's ear to vacation in Wyoming.
With no drumbeat on the TV screen and no daughter whispering in his ear, Trump filled the vacuum by getting on the telephone Tuesday with Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association.
I once told people to be wary of Bill Clinton as president because he tended to go along with the last person with whom he spoke. I had no earthly idea. Trump makes Clinton seem possessed of steely resolve.
Off the phone to LaPierre, Trump told reporters that we have background checks already. He said the problem was never the weapon, but always the shooter. He said we need to do something about mental illness and with the mentally ill.
He doesn't take back what he said before. He just pretends he didn't say it, or that what he's saying now is not any different, really, from what he was saying then.
Reporters quote sources as saying LaPierre had reminded Trump, again, that he is beholden to NRA members in rural America for his electoral advantage. LaPierre is said to have explained to Trump that rural American conservatives would see expanded background checks as a concession to those prissy liberals who oppose guns altogether, and that he would lose the fervor of their support if he followed through in the way he'd been talking.
It's not enough that these voters fear or hate Democrats. In a presidential race, the intensity of support is key. Who cares enough to vote? Barack Obama won because there was intensity; Hillary Clinton lost because there wasn't.
Reporters quoted sources as saying Trump had told LaPierre that we would come up with some innovative ways to check these mentally ill gun-buyers, but that widening background checks--from customers of licensed dealers only, as is now the case, to all buyers online, at gun shows and personally with a few exceptions--is "off the table."
That's despite the fact that a Fox News poll says Americans favor expanded background checks by 90 to 7. That's a finding that an editorial from this paper's ruling conservatives noted last week in announcing an odd agreement with their in-house centrist that background checks were no panacea but ought to be expanded.
But, see, these editorial writers are honest conservatives. They are worried about subscribers and advertisers and iPad conversions, not whether they can draw once more to an electoral inside straight in the next presidential election.
Newspaper opinion writers don't run for office. It's beneath them. And they'd lose.
Anyway, Trump told reporters that Fox was no good anymore because they've got Donna Brazile as a contributor.
This issue is not about guns. It's not about the mentally ill.
It's about Trump and Republicans drawing again to that electoral inside straight. It's about a ravenous ego being fed. It's about a Republican majority being preserved. It's about continuing to pound federal judgeships with conservative thinkers.
And it's not about whatever this bloviating president says the first time while the cable TV screen is hot. He's just looking for applause. He hasn't analyzed the deeper politics beyond his superficial perspective of momentary televised heroism.
So, in the final analysis, meaning after Trump has been forcibly turned away from the TV screen and given a good talking to, it matters most to Republicans--for entirely electoral reasons--that people can continue to buy guns without being checked out.
Either the absurdity of that astounds and outrages you, or it doesn't.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 08/22/2019
Print Headline: JOHN BRUMMETT: Flight of the presidency