The Proper Delusion

Old men don’t sleep late – that’s for teenagers – but that leaves some odd empty hours, those early morning winter hours before the sun comes up over the Hollywood hills, before the Los Angeles Times arrives with a thump outside the front door, when everything is quiet – too quiet, as they say in the horror movies, before the monster jumps out of the closet. But there’s no point in trying to sleep. That won’t work, so it’s scanning the incoming email and taking care of what needs to be taken care of – which doesn’t take long – and black coffee and a pipe or two of the fine Danish pipe tobacco, and watching the sky grow light in the east. The sun will come up, but it’s an empty time, and letting the cable news folks talk about this and that will fill the emptiness. Morning Joe on MSNBC is good – Joe Scarborough can be a jerk, but he seems to mean well, and Mika Brzezinski is cool and calm and gorgeous and strong – she’ll slap him down if he gets out of hand. They’re reasonably good company, but sometimes things become a bit disheartening. They were interviewing Donald Trump in the middle of January two years before the next presidential election, and he was saying he was going to run this time, for real. This was not good.

This was actually disturbing. Donald Trump seems to consider himself the most admired man in America – and perhaps the sexiest man in America too – even if no one believes either. He is, however, superbly self-confident, or delusional. There’s often little difference between the two. If you end up doing what you thought you could do, even if no one else thought you could do it, your self-confidence is admirable. That’s what got you where you wanted to be, where you alone knew you should be all along. If, however, you end up not doing what you thought you could do, because you never could, as everyone else knew already, then you are simply delusional, which isn’t a good thing.

You may never know which it is, but professional athletes are trained to be delusional. That’s what keeps them going. It seems to be the same with politicians – but in both cases you have to have some raw natural talent and a good skillset too. Trump has neither. The interview was painful to watch – what started out as a promo for his new celebrity golf tournament – he bought and fixed up the old Doral courses in Florida – turned into his sneering comments about why he alone should be the next president, and will be.

Much of this was driven by the news of the day – now that Jeb Bush is running for president and grabbing all the donors, because the folks with big money think the country needs a third Bush in the White House, Mitt Romney has said he is going after those same donors because he will run again, and he’ll get it right this time. He couldn’t beat McCain in 2008 for the Republican nomination, and he couldn’t beat Obama in 2012 with the nomination, but knows he can beat Hillary Clinton. Joe and Mika had to ask Donald Trump about this, after there was nothing to say about golf:

“I would say the last thing we need is another Bush,” Trump said, adding that he knows “for a fact” that the two don’t like each other.

“As far as Romney is concerned, he had a great chance of winning and he blew it,” the real estate mogul said on Monday. “He’s like a dealmaker that couldn’t close the deal, so you just can’t give him another chance. It didn’t work. He got less [he meant “fewer” of course] votes than John McCain got years before and he was just unable to close the deal that should have easily been closed.”

“You know, it’s a little like a golfer – I’m at the Trump National Doral and we have the great championships here – and certain golfers cannot sink the 3-foot putt on the 18th hole,” Trump said.

He said, in essence, they were both delusional, but he wasn’t, and he would make a fine president – “I think I could do a lot of things well if I got it. I would do a lot of things differently.”

He wasn’t specific on that – he spoke a lot about common sense, in the abstract – so you have to trust him on that. He seems to think people trust him, and this was interesting:

He explained that he decided not to run in 2012 because of contractual obligation with his show, The Apprentice, but said the obligation no longer exists because the show “will be long gone by the time – in other words it will all be over in about five weeks, so after that the timing is good.”

Trump noted that in addition to the show, he has building projects all over the world, including a construction project on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Trump International Hotel is being built at the Old Post Office building in Washington, D.C.

“If you’re president of the United States you can check out your property on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Scarborough quipped.

“I don’t even have to move into the White House,” Trump said.

Yep, everything falls into place, but he didn’t explain why he wanted to be president. The pay is lousy, by his standards, and the president may be the most powerful man in the world, but Congress will try to stop you if you do what you want, or the Supreme Court will, as Nixon discovered, and you end up doing what your major donors want you to do anyway. They got you there. It may be cool to be president – few ever get there – but everyone ends up hating you in the end. It seems like a most unpleasant job, but it must be a King of the Hill sort of thing. Once there, you do what you can and hope for the best. The point is to get there. That may be the whole point.

Donald Trump wants to get there, and so does Mitt Romney for some reason. That’s the odd thing here. Taylor Swift or Tiger Woods will be president before Donald Trump ever is, and running for president is just what Bush guys do, but Mitt Romney had his hat handed to him last time around and should have learned his lesson – try something else. That’s a hard lesson. No one wants to concede that there are certain things that just won’t happen for them – pitching that no-hitter in the seventh game of the World Series or writing the great American novel – that those are no more than the pleasant delusions of those with limited talents. Romney, however, won’t concede that, and John Dickerson explains that Romney learned a different lesson:

When Jeb Bush formed his leadership PAC, he said he wanted it to encourage other like-minded candidates. It worked. He encouraged Mitt Romney. The two-time presidential candidate is now seriously considering another run. “It’s real,” says a veteran of the last go-around. “He’s probably going to run.” When I asked another veteran of the Romney campaign, who spoke to the candidate this weekend, he explained why Romney had moved into high gear: “Bush stepped on the gas.”

For months, Romney has been contemplating another presidential candidacy. He has told donors that he would be interested in running, but left them with the impression that his interest was conditional. He told one that he wouldn’t run if Jeb Bush ran. A number of his backers told him that he could wait to get in – let the other candidates splash around and look amateurish and then swoop in. He had the fundraising network and staffers who could build a campaign quickly.

But then Bush rushed headlong into the race and started asking for commitments from donors. He also started hiring staffers. That kicked off Romney’s more aggressive posture. He could no longer wait – as he once thought he might be able to – because his old edifice was being eaten away.

Winning the presidency means winning over the big donors, and Jeb Bush forced his hand, so he made his move:

His argument to his former supporters, says one who spoke with him, is that he came very close in the last election against an incumbent president with a good economy. He wouldn’t face an opponent with those kinds of advantages again. (Romney ran against Obama arguing that the economy was terrible; now its health in 2012 is part of the case why he should run again.) He also feels, says one supporter who has spoken with him recently, that he would be crazy to pass up a chance to challenge a “beatable candidate” like Hillary Clinton and let someone like Rand Paul have a shot at it.

He wouldn’t lie this time, arguing that the economy was terrible, or something, and this time the country would feel they need him, the Real Romney:

Supporters say that what’s still true about Romney is that he has the skills that would be useful in the White House. Since his defeat, a series of management failures in government agencies like the IRS, Veterans Affairs, and the botched rollout of Obamacare have demonstrated a need for someone with Romney’s talent for turning around big institutions. Romney and his boosters also say his foreign policy assessment about Russia was validated after the election, giving him standing in a field that at the moment doesn’t contain anyone with substantial foreign policy experience.

Romney’s supporters also say that while he may have flaws, other candidates do too and he has advantages they don’t have. He has run before and they describe him as more relaxed and looser. With his name recognition and ability to raise ready cash, Romney could possibly take advantage of a shortened campaign calendar that party strategists say will favor well-funded candidates who can compete in multiple states and afford the complicated delegate husbanding operation.

But there is this:

During the last two presidential races, Romney has been dogged by accusations that he has no core convictions and changes his positions opportunistically. A third candidacy based on the idea of presenting the “real Romney” might be better, but it will also animate that underlying charge because voters might conclude that anyone who needs three tries to find their authentic self might not have a good map of the territory.

Yeah, but the point is to win. One can fake core convictions, if necessary, to get to the place where you’ve always wanted to be, even if it is a lousy job once you’re there. All it takes is the proper delusions, as Luke Brinker notes:

Mitt Romney’s exploration of another presidential run in 2016 relies on some rather peculiar logic. Though Romney once signaled he was unlikely to enter the contest if Jeb Bush did – the two men’s donor base would overlap too much, the thinking went – the 2012 GOP nominee may toss his hit into the ring despite Bush’s clear intention to run, in large part because Romney thinks Bush’s work in private equity may make him a poor general election candidate. In other words, Romney may challenge Bush because he thinks Bush is too much like Romney.

Jim Newell explains this in some detail – Romney thinks no one will buy the idea that Jeb Bush is a populist now, and Mitt is willing to be one now, which is odd, but Brinker has more:

What makes Romney’s argument odder still is that come next year, he’d be running against an economy that will almost certainly be performing far better than it was in 2012. On Election Day that year, the national unemployment rate stood at 7.7 percent; it’s now 5.6 percent, the lowest rate since the spring of 2008. In the third quarter of 2012 – the last full one before the election – the economy grew at a rate of 2 percent; compare that with 5 percent in the third quarter of 2014, the fastest rate in more than a decade. For the entire year, the economy expanded 2.3 percent in 2012. This year, the Federal Reserve forecasts a growth rate between 2.6 and 3 percent, while the central bank predicts growth of 2.6 to 2.9 percent in 2016.

To be sure, as figures like Elizabeth Warren have noted, the recovery has left many workers behind. But ordinary workers faced even greater hardship two years ago, and Romney still couldn’t pull off a victory. Now, his 2012 postmortem also takes into account that he was facing an incumbent president – and it’s true that it’s far harder to dislodge a sitting chief executive than it is to win an open contest. But assuming the economy continues its upward trajectory, voters next year will likely reward Obama’s party, which bodes well for probable Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton… There are any number of scenarios in which the economy could take a turn for the worse – a full-blown euro-zone crisis or further geopolitical instability, for instance. But if Romney thinks that a good economy proved fatal to his 2012 hopes, he probably won’t like what 2016 has in store.

Romney doesn’t have the proper delusion, and Jonathan Chait thinks Romney, because he’s not insane, will realize that soon enough:

Eight years ago, John Kerry briefly considered another run for president, after also having failed to oust an incumbent despised by his own party’s base and mistaking the outpouring of commitment on his behalf as an expression of personal loyalty, rather than the partisan loyalty it actually was. Soon enough, Kerry came to his senses. Romney will, too.

Mitt Romney is not Donald Trump after all, but on the far right, Allahpundit, seems to take him seriously:

Romney would surely prefer to see Bush win the nomination than someone more conservative. If he knows in his heart of hearts that he’s not running, he should grit his teeth and encourage Jeb to pile up the dough. The better armed Bush is financially, the better his chances to run the table and snuff the tea-party threat early. Why force him to slow his roll if Ted Cruz will benefit?

Meanwhile, I keep seeing quotes in stories about Romney’s deliberations noting that he’s not impressed with Bush’s political skills, doesn’t believe Bush will have an easier time on his private equity dealings than Romney himself had, and, frankly, may not like Bush all that much personally. … If all of that is true, that Romney legitimately thinks Bush can’t beat Hillary if he’s the nominee, then yeah – suddenly it seems entirely plausible that he’s “likely” to run.

Against all odds and logic, he may have convinced himself that he, Mitt Romney, is the very best the GOP can do against the Democrats for two consecutive presidential cycles. That seems to me the strongest explanation for why he’d dare risk splitting the establishment by waging a war of the RINOs against Jeb while Cruz, Paul, and the other righties sit back and laugh.

But also on the right, Philip Klein is simply befuddled:

Romney may have believed some of the stories that surfaced last year about nostalgia for Romney. But this sentiment on the Right (such as “see, Romney warned about the threat of Russia”) was more about pointing out the failures of Obama’s second term than representative of any newfound love of Romney. Conservatives have not warmed up to Romney. They’ve gone easier on him, because they assumed he was retired from politics and they don’t see the need to continue kicking him. That will change should he run for president again, a prospect that perplexingly is looking more likely.

At Bloomberg View, Jonathan Bernstein wonders about both Jeb and Mitt:

Republican Party actors might be so desperate for a recognizable order to the campaign and familiar names that they will simply flock to Bush or Romney. But it’s at least as likely that real enthusiasm for Romney in particular, and perhaps for Bush as well, doesn’t extend far beyond their relatively small circle of loyalists, and that most party actors – politicians, campaign and governing professionals, donors and activists, party officials and staff, party-aligned interest groups and media – are more than ready to move on. …

What we need now is some reporting about what Republican Party actors, especially the ones outside the Bush and Romney orbits, are thinking. While we’ve had indications that some big-money donors want a recognizable candidate right now, it isn’t at all clear how deep that sentiment goes.

The statistician Nate Silver echoes that:

While Romney could perhaps beat out Bush, whose candidacy hasn’t been received all that well by conservative elites so far, a fresher face like Walker or Rubio could be more problematic. Or if the establishment field became too crowded, it could open up room for a candidate like Paul to win by plurality. Romney’s path is not impossible – after all, Republicans nominated him in 2012. But he faces a tougher sell and a tougher field than he did four years ago.

Sure, but Paul Waldman doesn’t count Romney out:

If there’s one other thing you can say about Mitt Romney, it’s that he’s persistent. He lost in his first run for office, a Senate race against Ted Kennedy in 1994, then came back eight years later and won a race to become Massachusetts governor. He lost to John McCain in his first run for president in 2008, then came back four years later and got the Republican nomination. So why couldn’t he lose the general election in 2012, then win it all in 2016? To him, it probably makes perfect sense.

Of course it does. Delusions are like that, but Daniel Larison sees this:

Romney’s most likely supporters are “somewhat conservative” and moderate voters that couldn’t care less about Bush’s immigration and education views, so attacking Bush from the right on these issues will leave them cold and offer them no incentive to prefer Romney to Bush. The good news of a Romney run for the other candidates is that it will siphon away some support from Bush in early states and prevent Bush from gaining much early momentum. That makes a long, drawn-out nomination contest more likely than it would have been if Romney had wisely stayed out of the race. Romney’s ego trip makes it slightly more likely that an insurgent Republican candidate will come away with the nomination for the first time in decades.

Let’s see. By running, Romney assures that he will lose, right? That’s no fun, but Brian Beutler sums up the real problem:

Romney has never been a crusader, and was thus ill suited to the ideological battles of 2012. His best political attribute has always been a reputation for managerial competence. But he cashed in on that virtue at the wrong time, and as such, has legions of supporters, who support him not because he was a successful governor and business man, but because he promised to wrest the country from the clutches of socialism. It’d be untenable for him to pander to that element in a climate of full employment, but it’d be just as untenable for him to step out of sync with his supporters by promising to be a responsible steward of a full-employment economy.

Another way to say that is that this guy has a gift for being the right guy at the wrong time, or the wrong guy at the right time. Either way, he loses – but it’s better than being Donald Trump, the master of self-delusion – and neither of them is talking about why they want to president. They just do, and that’s puzzling. The job is awful.

And there will be almost two years of this. That makes the quiet hours out here before dawn a bit problematic. Old men don’t sleep late, but maybe they should.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to The Proper Delusion

  1. John Le Pouvoir says:

    Sleep is good. T’would be good to go out for long walks in the crepuscular hours as well – watch the world awaken. But then, I’m not a media junkie, so don’t listen to me.

  2. Rick says:

    I, for one, welcome Donald the Trump to the Republican race, not necessarily for what he adds to it but for what he subtracts. No circus ever suffered from having too many clowns! The more, the merrier!

    But as for him saying this:

    “I would say the last thing we need is another Bush”.

    It’s very easy to knock the American propensity for presidential dynasties, what with multiple Adams’ and Harrisons and Roosevelts and Tafts and Kennedy’s and Clintons and Bushs, but I’d wager fewer Americans would agree that another Bush is the last thing we need, than would that another Trump run for the White House would be, no matter how much fun that always is.

    But I suspect there is a serious reason for the periodic popularity of the legacy candidate that makes it almost inevitable in our system, and that is that voters look not only for the candidate who generally agrees with them but only one of those they think has a good chance of winning, and even if they themselves don’t believe the “winning” gene is carried in the bloodline of a particular family, they might think that enough other people believe it to tip the scales — and in our system, there are so preciously few reasons to place your bets on any particular candidate that you settle for what you can get.

    But in the case of Jeb Bush, I suppose he carries his own unique burden of dynasty, having to live down a legacy of failure of the brother who would precede him in office, something few Republicans will ever admit to publicly but they all know it. But what he has going for him is the reputation, maybe justified, that he is the good Bush brother, the one that probably should have been elected president last time, and maybe also that he is one of the very few non-whacko contenders to be found on the Republican side this time around.

    After all, you don’t want your circus to be all clowns — you’ll probably want to have someone passing for a ring-master in there, too.

    Rick

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