Donald Trump announced yesterday that, nah, he doesn’t wanna put Hillary Clinton in jail after all: “It’s not something I feel very strongly about … I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t. She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many ways, and I am not looking to hurt them at all … I want to move forward, I don’t want to move back.”
Isn’t this the guy who spent the year heaving red meat to his Hillary-hating acolytes? Saying things like, “Honestly, she should be locked up”? And “special prosecutor, here we come”? And promising on the debate stage that if he won, “I’m going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor” because she oughta “be in jail”?
To quote Emily Litella, the daft “Saturday Night Live” character of no fixed convictions, “Never mind!”
Seriously, if anyone out there has a bead on what Trump truly believes, please share. Because based on what we’re seeing now, he’s like your basic politician who says one thing to get elected, then says something else. He campaigned on the belief that human-induced climate change is a hoax, and that the Paris climate accord is bad; yesterday he said there’s “connectivity” between humans and climate change, and that he’s viewing the Paris accord with “an open mind.” He campaigned on the belief that waterboarding is effective; yesterday he said he’s “very impressed” with arguments that waterboarding is ineffective. He campaigned with the vow to build a two-million-mile wall at the Mexican border; now he barely mentions it. Ten days ago he merely suggested that “there could be some fencing.”
It’s theoretically tempting to suggest that Trump is purposely moving to the center, that he’s moderating his stances in recognition of the fact that he has no governing mandate. (Clinton is now beating him by two million votes; a decisive plurality of Americans did not sign up for his shtick.) But I doubt that he’s flip-flopping for pragmatic political reasons. I suspect it’s just a function of his needy personality, and his apparent habit of believing whatever he says the moment he’s saying it.
Like other politicians, and arguably moreso, he desperately needs to please the audience he’s speaking to. Yesterday’s audience consisted of editors, reporters, and columnists at The New York Times — hence the impulse to moderate. (Old Trump: The Times is “failing” and lying. Yesterday’s Trump: The Times is “a great, great American jewel.”)
This behavior didn’t go over well in Trumplandia. Heads detonated at the news that he’d gone soft on Hillary. A teensy sampling of the tweetstorms:
— Derek: We Won! (@Dereksnow51Snow) November 22, 2016
you haven’t even taken the oath of office but you broke a promise to us to get a prosecuter for Hillary Clinton. never trump for me again
— skip townsend (@817skip) November 22, 2016
And on reddit: “Hey Donald, a big chunk of people voted for you because you promised you would unleash the Hounds of Justice and let them finally rip the Witch into meat pieces! If you don’t hold this promise you will be out of office so fast you won’t even understand what’s happening to you.“
Judicial Watch, the conservative legal group that has dogged the Clinton since the ’90s, also condemned Trump, but did so without gnawing the carpet. Failure to prosecute Hillary “would be a betrayal of his promise to the American people to ‘drain the swamp’ of out-of-control corruption in Washington.” (In truth, Trump’s new desire to leave Hillary alone is just as ignorant as his old vow to “instruct” the attorney general to pursue her. A president doesn’t make those decisions; an independent Justice Department makes the call.)
But Trumplandia need not be unduly agitated. Does anyone really believe that what Trump said yesterday will hold sway tomorrow? Put him back on the road in front of a roaring rally, and he’ll probably give moderation the Emily Litella kissoff. Yes, folks, the battle to fill this empty vessel has only just begin.