Trump scores at CPAC: what it means

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

I thought I would talk today, I haven't spoken much about former President Trump since he's no longer president and I intend to continue that practice. But given this weekend and the big speech at CPAC and the fact that in the straw poll, Trump won and won by a long margin. I mean, DeSantis came in number two, but he's the Governor of Florida, CPAC was in Orlando, so that's a home court bias. In reality, it's Trump's party. And I think given all of that, it's worth spending a little bit of time reflecting on what that means, how I think about these things.


Because if he runs again and this is a long ways away, thank God, because I'm not ready for election coverage, but it's pretty clear that right now he would be the ex-ante favorite and probably get the nomination easily. And that means that he could easily become president yet again. It reminds me of Bolsonaro in Brazil. I mean, somewhat it's almost astonishing to believe that Bolsonaro was elected president to begin with, given who he is, what he is, what he represents, and yet elections coming up late next year, he could easily win again. He's in the low forties right now, approval in Brazil, that being the case, this is a guy that could become president again. So, you have to take yourself out of how you feel about these people and recognize what they represent in terms of political influence and power. And I say that because when I think back on the coverage that I did for four years of the United States during Trump's presidency, I have to admit, I found the Trump presidency emotionally exhausting, because almost everyone was outraged all the time. I mean, the volume... It's like Spinal Tap, the volume's always up to 11. Every tweet, every video, every news program with how much they love this guy or how much they can't stand this guy, incredibly divisive and that made it extremely challenging to be analytically balanced and fair. Especially, because I personally find Trump and have always found Trump since he first started flirting with the idea of running for office, completely unfit for public service for lots of reasons, right?

I mean the orientation towards authoritarianism, the personal corruption, the incompetence, the extraordinary narcissism and all of those things made me feel he was completely unfit. And to have that feeling, and that's an emotional response to someone who is president of the United States, and as a political scientist, the job is, if you're doing it right, is to be a referee, it's to call balls and strikes, it's not to be on one team or the other. That's actually extremely difficult to do consistently when you know that you have, if you're being honest with yourself, an emotional feeling. And by the way, being a referee doesn't mean bothsidesism, it doesn't mean 50-50, it means calling balls and strikes. Some people get walks, some people strike out, you're trying to be objective.

So, I mean, that doesn't mean that suddenly you give people that represent QAnon an equivalent platform to those that represent science and truth. No, QAnon is ludicrous and stupid, and they should be dispensed with as such. Flat earthers, anti-vaxxers, Obama birtherism, which remember, is how Trump kind of got his start in terms of presidential campaigning, all equally bullshit, none of them deserve the time of day. What it means is to take the emotions out of it. It is to try to call balls and strikes for Trump just as you would for someone that you don't have that emotional agita about. And it's admittedly much harder when everyone is screaming all the time. And I would say that there were a few lessons that I take away from that.

The first is to consistently recognize the limitations of presidential power. In other words, just because something is being tweeted, doesn't mean it's becoming policy. And understanding what is doable and what is not doable. It's also the whole, not a coup. I mean, if the military is not involved, a professional military in the United States, that consistently reports to the people, is independent from the executive, from the Joint Chiefs, to all of the former Secretaries of Defense, up to the rank and file in the military, the National Guard, you name it, all of them are completely separate from Trump. And that reality of patriotic service that continues in the United States, hasn't eroded in the United States. Very important to recognize that when you see lots of shiny objects that are being thrown around by either the former president or by the media that is covering.

Secondly, a recognition that the administration is broad, it is not just Trump himself. And therefore, assessing what the administration as a whole is doing their policies, their efforts, how aligned they are with previous Republican policies, how aligned they are not. Draining the swamp was not something that was being done, but appointing lots of conservative judges absolutely is. I mean, all of these people that hate Trump that say that Trump completely subverted the Republican party, well, actually a lot of his policies were aligned with the Republican party. Why? Well, because it wasn't Trump that was driving them, it was the administration that was driving them, or it was the Republicans in the legislature that was driving them. That's important too.

Also, the need to recognize when they do something that is successful. Even if you know that people that follow you are going to come after you for saying that or be disappointed. So, like the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, you may not like the execution, but the actual deal is an improvement on previous NAFTA, something that could have been done before, wasn't, now is, you say, "Yes, that's actually an improvement in policy." And I've spent time looking at all of the policies that have been engaged in under the course of Trump that were obvious successes, improvements. The Abraham Accords, another obvious example, the peaceful breakthroughs in diplomatic relations between Israel and a number of Arab States in the broader Middle Eastern region.

And then of course, calling out things that are poor policy, that are thoughtless, that are the process breaking down. The extraordinary amount of personnel churn, for example. Leaving the World Health Organization, or even worse, Trump organizing mask-free rallies in the middle of a pandemic, leaving the Paris Accord. I mean, all of these things, again, when you're focused on the policy, as opposed to the person, a lot easier to say, "Okay, this makes sense, this doesn't make sense. Let's talk about that, let's divorce it from individual feelings and emotions."

And then the funny thing is, and this was an interesting lesson for me, right after the election, right after Fox News called Arizona and it was clear that Biden had won, it was the end of the Trump administration, and so I, after four years of trying to be intellectually fair about what I did and didn't think about the Trump administration, trying not to be driven crazy by all of the divisiveness, basically saying, "okay everybody, so now Trump's gone, Biden's going to be president, now is the time to reach out to your neighbor, to your friend, your former friend, the member of your family that's a Trump administration and say, 'Look, I know how you feel.'" And I thought that from my perspective, at that time, very narrowly, I was thinking, "well, people aren't Trump supporters or Biden supporters, people are human beings and the amount of their humanity that's consumed by politics is tiny." I mean, what you really are is a soccer mom or you're into football or you're into tennis, or you like to go out and drink with your buddies or all those things that define you more effectively than who you happen to have voted for. And all of us, that is true for all of us, but what I hadn't appreciated enough given being in my head of, "I'm going to do my best to be analytically correct," all of that, is that the divisions in the United States driven by Trump and exacerbated by the media, made people on the other side feel abused.

I mean, four years of abuse, Trump won by being such an incredibly toxic and divisive candidate against the other side, us versus them in America. And when you've been in a relationship like that for four years, the first thing you're prepared to do when finally, you see the end of that tunnel is not say, "Okay, let me reach out to the person that's abused me." No, no, it's this catharsis that you need, it's this extraordinary outpouring of emotion. And as someone who focuses more on international affairs in the United States, it reminds me of the way the United States has for a long time treated developing countries, right? Which is not our problem, right? I mean, we're not treated as equivalent human beings, they may or may not be expedient for the United States, but actually it's really about us, it's not about them. Whether you talk about exploitation of resources or military presence, and yeah, we talk a great game on human rights, but the reality is, "what is in it for us?" Because it's America first, whether we say that or not.

And when you go and talk to someone that isn't American about US foreign policy, that as on the other side of that, whether in Central America or in Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia, Southeast Asia, you don't start with a conversation of, "Well, let me explain to you why we should all have a kumbaya moment right now," you actually need to listen to a lot of anger that comes from the relationship with the United States. And so, the fact that there was this immense hostility to me for having dared to suggest that the Americans that had just won their election against Trump after four years of the anger and of the feelings of abuse should let bygones be bygones, they thought I was objectively insane, or worse, really ill-intentioned, and came after me hard. And I... That was a learning process frankly, I wrote underneath my initial posts I'm like, "Hey, or alternatively, if I got this completely wrong and you'd like to tell me to fuck off, please tell me to fuck off." And I think that it was a useful lesson.

Number one, do not take yourself seriously, right? I mean, you get things wrong, and you admit that you get them wrong. You missed something, you admit you missed something. But also, frankly, getting the entire country for a couple of days to tell me to "fuck off," was a little bit of my effort to help bring the country together. If that we could agree, all of us could agree on one thing, it was telling Ian to "fuck off" right after the election, and that actually felt like a public service, so I was happy to do that.

I hope everyone's good. Again, be safe, avoid people, and I'll talk to you all real soon.

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