Remember that the presidency is an office that carries significant symbolic importance. Ronald Reagan, famously, always wore a suit in the Oval Office. (Sidenote: Not totally true.) There are countless examples of Republicans questioning whether something Bill Clinton or Barack Obama did was "presidential"; ditto Democrats raising questions about George W. Bush.
Most of those barbs were — and are — of the purely partisan sort. Obama is a Democrat, Democrats don't respect the office of the president, ergo Obama is not presidential. The people who tend to see lack of "presidential" behavior — Obama sat down with YouTube stars! — are partisans who don't like the president. Period.
But the question of acting "presidential" when it comes to Trump is an entirely different conversation — and one that is far less partisan than discussions involving other candidates and past presidents.
Trump seems to lack a sense — even broadly defined — of how a leading presidential candidate "should" act. In fact, at virtually every turn, he does the opposite of what might be considered "presidential" behavior.
The hand-size question is illustrative here. Trump's take is that Rubio raised questions about the size of his hands during the campaign and he felt the need to respond because “I don’t want people to go around thinking that I have a problem. ... By saying that, I solved the problem."
Now, the "presidential" response would have been to ignore Rubio's middle-school insults and say something like "I am running for the highest and most important office in the country. I won't talk about trivial things like this."
Or take how Trump has interacted with Fox News Channel's Megyn Kelly. Rather than simply writing off his disagreements with her to a difference of opinions, Trump has repeatedly taken to Twitter to savage Kelly as "bad" and "crazy" among lots of other taunts.
Some Republicans privately hoped that Trump would begin to act more presidential as it became clear that he is the favorite to be the party's nominee in the fall. Trump himself has suggested publicly that he will act differently and more presidential if/when he is elected. During the last debate between the candidates this month, he acted far more restrained and, well, presidential, than he had shown an ability to do prior. (No "Little Marco" to describe Rubio or "Lyin' Ted" to describe Ted Cruz.)
But Trump quickly reverted back to his default persona — brash, bombastic and unapologetic — following his wins March 15. And even in an editorial board meeting — that most-staid of political traditions — Trump felt the need to fully explain his hand size. (Among the ways Trump referred to his hands Monday: "Normal." "Strong." "Good size." "Great." "Fine." "Slightly large, actually.")
The truth of the matter is that the people who are for Trump like that he's not "presidential" in any conventional way. They hate all politicians and think acting presidential is what has gotten us into this mess. If Trump wants to make genital references, swear or get in Twitter spats with TV personalities then his allies are just fine with it. It's Trump being Trump.
The problem — or maybe more accurately the question — is how much or little Trump's disdain for being presidential will impact how he is perceived by voters who are not currently for him. Conventional wisdom dictates that people tend to see their presidential vote as aspirational — choosing someone who represents the best of us (or the "even better than us.") Trump's appeal is the opposite of that; despite being very wealthy he sells himself as the voice of the common man — and aims to act and talk like he believes the average person does.
Is that what we want in our president? Trump seems content on making a big bet that it is.