Those twin events filled the Washington political establishment in both parties with hope. Maybe, just maybe, President Trump would be a different sort of character from Candidate Trump. Less thin-skinned, more magnanimous. Less tweet, more meet. And all that.
Trump's past 72 hours on social media put the idea of a “new” Trump to rest (again). First there were the tweets about illegal immigrants voting in the election and allegations of voter fraud in Virginia and California. Then there was the retweeting of ad hominem attacks against CNN's Jeff Zeleny for his accurate reporting that no actual incidents of fraud had been found. Then last night and again this morning, there were attacks on CNN about alleged bias against him — again with no evidence of such bias. And, finally, the cherry on top this morning: a tweet suggesting that he might make burning the American flag a criminal act. (The Supreme Court ruled in both 1989 and 1990 that flag burning is constitutionally protected free speech.)
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2016
What all of that suggests is that Trump is going to Trump — whether he is at Trump Tower, on a TV set or in the Oval Office. What does “Trump” mean in this context? That he will veer wildly from a calm sort-of statesman to an angry Twitter troll — sometimes within a few hours or even minutes. It is simply who he is, and, as I've said before, how many highly successful 70-year-old men do you know who fundamentally change how they act this late in life? The answer is none.
There is a tendency — especially among members of the media — to assume that all of this is part of Trump's grand strategic plan, a way to keep reporters distracted and off balance so that they can't focus on his business conflicts of interest or other unsavory parts of his backstory.
I'm not sure that is totally right. Undoubtedly, Trump likes to control the daily political narrative. He likes the story to be about him, even if it is a bad story. But I also think Trump is simply a creature of action — he just does stuff that his gut tells him to do and then sees what the reaction to it is. He operates on instinct and deeply values unpredictability in all things.
What that means is that Trump may go a week or even a month behaving in a “presidential” manner. But he will always revert to this other side of himself. There is not one without the other. There is no “new” Trump waiting to be revealed. Only the Trump that we saw every day on the campaign trail: brash, unpredictable and unafraid.
Let us all agree, then, to shelve talk of Trump's turning over a new leaf once the enormity of the position to which he has been elected finally hits him. It ain't gonna happen. There is no Trump but the one you see before us.