Danielle Allen is a political theorist at Harvard University and a contributing columnist for The Post.
Republican elected officials, take note. Donald Trump is not malleable.
How do we know this? There is the fact, of course, that people have been pressing him since the fall to name his foreign policy advisers and on Wednesday he admitted that he consults primarily with himself. “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things,” he said. “My primary consultant is myself, and I have a good instinct for this stuff.”
But even more important, we know that he is not malleable and will not take advice because we’ve seen a specific case of it acted out in relation to the most important issue put on the table by Trump in this campaign: civil order.
As is now broadly recognized, Trump has routinely encouraged and condoned violence at his rallies. He has said a protester maybe “should have been roughed up.” He has encouraged his followers to “knock the crap out of” protesters and promised (perhaps emptily in the end) to pay their legal bills if they did. He has waxed nostalgic for the good old days when protesters got carried out on stretchers.
The media, myself included, has been criticizing him on this point for a solid month, at least. Voices from all over the political spectrum have weighed in on the view that the leaders of a democratic republic should never, not even on the campaign trail, call for or condone unlawful violence. To the contrary, it is their job especially, as the Wall Street Journal argued in an editorial last week, to maintain civil order and to establish a norm and culture of respect for civil order.
So Trump doesn’t listen to the media. No news there. But more important, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), a leader, in other words, of the Republican Party, spoke with Trump by phone on Tuesday and encouraged him, as the Daily Caller reported, to “ ‘condemn’ the ‘violent expressions’ at some of his political rallies.” McConnell said: “I took the opportunity to recommend to him that no matter who may be triggering these violent expressions or conflicts that we’ve seen in some of these rallies, it might be good to condemn that and discourage it no matter what the source of it is.”
McConnell should have used stronger language. It’s not that it “might” be good for Trump to do this. It would definitely be good for him to do this. Nonetheless, it counts as McConnell’s having given Trump good advice.
What did Trump do with it? He ignored it.
First thing, Wednesday morning, he warned that if he continues to lead in the delegate count but falls short of the 1,237 needed for a majority, and the convention doesn’t yield him as the nominee, the Republican Party should expect riots. “I think it would be — I think you’d have riots. I think you’d have riots. I’m representing a tremendous, many, many millions of people.”
Trump went on to say, “I wouldn’t lead it, but I think bad things would happen.” In other words, he wants to wave his hands and claim that he’s just describing a potential outcome, not himself doing anything to generate that outcome. But as Marco Rubio advised him recently, words have consequences, especially when they come from a presidential candidate, and especially from one whose supporters have a notably strong devotion to him.
In other words, Trump just projected violent activity from his “many, many millions” of followers. He conjured up a possibility for all of our imaginations, thereby nudging it toward reality, rather than using his words to nudge us toward civil order. He might instead have said, “My supporters will be disappointed but if the rules of the game lead us to a different nominee, we will accept that.” That is the requisite statement from a political leader in a democratic republic. It both acknowledges strong feelings and aims to channel them in the right direction.
On the issue, then, of violence at his rallies and the potential violence of his supporters, the media, commentators across the partisan spectrum, Rubio and McConnell have all given Trump advice.
And he has taken it from none of us.
Woe betide you, Republicans, if you think you can mold this man. Trump is right. He listens only to himself.