Donald Trump: Neither evil genius nor bumbler

During the first term of George W. Bush, I attended a Passover Seder. One of the other guests delivered a long riff about some non-Iraq-related conspiracy Bush supposedly had formulated.

I deadpanned, “Wow, that guy sounds like an evil genius.” The guest, who did not know my political leanings replied, “I wouldn’t say genius.”

More sophisticated Bush-haters solved the problem I raised with my quip through Vice President Cheney. He was the evil genius; Bush was his stooge. Thus, the left could have its cake and eat it too.

That won’t work with President Trump. There is no Dick Cheney in his administration. Trump can be called a bumbling fool or an evil genius, but not both.

This problem is at the heart of Bret Stephens’ postmortem of the Russia collusion story. Indeed, Stephens calls the piece “Is Trump Keyser Söze — Or Inspector Clouseau?”

Stephens writes:

Maybe, in fact, Trump is the genius he claims to be, possessed — as he likes to boast — of a “very good brain.”

O.K., I don’t quite believe that. But going forward, it would be wise for all of his inveterate critics in the news media, including me, to treat it as our operating assumption. The alternative is to let him hand us our butts all over again, just as he did by winning the G.O.P. nomination and then the election, and then by presiding over years of robust economic growth.

That should be the central lesson from the epic media fiasco of Russiagate.

“Russiagate” cast Trump as an evil conspirator who colluded with a U.S. adversary to steal the presidency. With the collapse of this narrative, some anti-Trumpers are falling back to the position that Trump is too much of a bumbler to have pulled that off. As Stephens describes this view:

Trump was never sophisticated enough to have been involved in some high-flown conspiracy with Russia. It would have required too much guile. Forget Söze; think Inspector Jacques Clouseau.

This is wrong. Trump could have colluded with Russia. It would not have required genius to do so, just a corrupt deal, which is hardly beyond Trump’s capability. But he didn’t collude.

Nor, as Stephens hypothesizes, did Trump cunningly induce the media to disgrace itself by running so far ahead of its virtually non-existent blocking with the collusion story. The media did that to itself.

In fact, Trump tried his best to tamp down a story that threatened to consume his presidency. His main reason for firing James Comey apparently was Comey’s refusal publicly to say (as he said privately) that there was, at that point, no evidence of collusion.

It’s obvious, though, that Trump possesses a very good brain. One does it accomplish what he has without one.

However, what he possesses above all is the instinct required to win. He’s not playing nine dimensional chess (or whatever), as his biggest fans like to claim, but he’s playing to win, knows what winning takes, and is willing to push the envelope to get it done.

Trump’s enemies should take Stephens’ concluding words to heart:

Donald Trump has just won a major victory over his chosen political enemies, including this newspaper. Whether he’s achieved this through genius or luck, it would behoove us not to take him for a fool. This was the week to examine our own foolishness instead.

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