Donald J. Trump is a jerk. I feel as if I have a right to say that. I voted for him. He may be a jerk, but he’s my jerk.
It was a difficult decision, probably the toughest call of my voting life. As a fiscal conservative, I was an early supporter of Ted Cruz, and I favored many other candidates in the crowded GOP primary over Trump — most of them, in fact. As the field narrowed, I kept thinking, “Oh, please, not him.” I wasn’t exactly a #NeverTrumper, but I was certainly in the #AnybodyBeforeTrump camp, although that is perhaps splitting hairs.
Then Trump won the primary, and I had to climb out of the depths of despair over the fact that my choice for president was Trump or Hillary Clinton. With thousands of available candidates who could be good presidents, the best our political system could come up with was this pair?
Don’t get me wrong. I was never, ever going to vote for Clinton. After eight years of President Obama’s statist stranglehold on this country, I’m not sure we could have survived another four or eight years of the same thing.
No, my choice was whether to vote for Trump, cast a protest ballot for a third-party candidate or simply sit out the presidential race.
I finally decided after months of agonized deliberation that anything but a vote for Trump would be the coward’s way out. One of those two people was going to be president, and if I chose not to vote for one, it would be the same as a vote for the other.
I could either have Clinton as president, and get absolutely nothing on my agenda addressed, or Trump as a chief executive who might at least give me some of what I wanted.
So now we have President Carnival Barker Clown, and I get some of the credit or some of the blame. You’re welcome, or I’m sorry, take your pick.
And I must say that . . . I have been . . . pleasantly surprised.
With The Donald as president, I have gotten more than some of my agenda. Trump chose a Supreme Court justice who doesn’t think the Constitution is his personal plaything. He has rolled back Obama’s devastating regulatory state. He has brought a semblance of sanity back to foreign policy. He has tackled, however gingerly, our byzantine tax system.
Even some of the things I don’t like — such as his protectionist approach to trade — are things I shouldn’t be shocked over, since he is merely doing what he promised to do as a candidate.
He is still a jerk, of course. As one of his Indiana newspaper columnist critics has said, he is “a loose cannon with a total disregard for Washington, D.C., protocol,” lacking “even the appearance of presidential behavior.”
That’s Trump’s problem, the whole “presidential appearance” thing. All our presidents have been jerks if you stop and think about it. You cannot even consider leading the free world unless you are a monumental narcissist with an ego that crowds every other normal human attribute out of your brain. But they have been jerks completely within the political process, which we are conditioned to not even notice as we play our own parts in that process.
Donald Trump is a jerk in ways we are not used to, so we notice.
And I can live with that, nervously. I feel a little like I did when I was a fan of Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight, cheering him on because of his flamboyance and winning ways, but always worried about the next stupid thing he would say or do. Donald Trump is my Bobby Knight of politics.
But now I have another really tough political vote to cast — whether to choose Luke Messer, Todd Rokita or Mike Braun as the GOP candidate to take on incumbent U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly. The main thing each of them desperately wants me to know is that he is really 1 million percent for our wonderful Make America Great Again president, and the other two are slimy, swamp-loving rats not worthy to touch the hem of Trump’s royal robes.
To which I respond:
I don’t believe them, I really don’t, even though they’re trying to sound just like me, at first against Trump and now willing to give him a chance. Right up until the end of the primary, Marco Rubio-supporting Rokita was calling Trump “vulgar, if not profane” and saying “at some point you have to be presidential.”
Even after the primary, Messer was accusing Trump of race-baiting and saying he was a “hard candidate for Republicans to swallow.”
What else do they have? Certainly, it is generally a good idea for a Republican Senate candidate to support his president, but we can’t forget that the man is mostly a populist. What conservative lines would they draw that they don’t think he should cross?
For what it’s worth, I’m leaning against Messer. He and Rokita are both members in good standing of the swamp they promise to drain, and each basically wants a more elevated position in the swamp, but Messer seems much more at home there.
That gives me a choice between Rokita, a prickly personality who promises to out Bobby Knight-Donald Trump, and Braun, who voted in a lot of Democratic primaries before seeking his Indiana House seat as a Republican.
Right now, I slightly favor Braun simply because he’s the outsider who (so far) hasn’t been tainted by Washington. But that could change. I’m a voter, so I’m allowed to be fickle.
And just in case you think I am making too much of this whole Trump business, answer this question: Who proudly told Fox News that he had voted with the president “62 percent of the time”?
U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.
Leo Morris is a columnist for The Indiana Policy Review and opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. Contact him at [email protected].