Donald Trump is a great communicator. He’s self-assured, entertaining, pungent. He could, as they say of talented actors, read the phone book and make it interesting (if, that is, hilariously boastful readings of the phone book are your kind of thing).
There is only one area where his communication skills are lacking: The man that Trump refers to as Trump is not always adept at expressing Trump’s views.
The loudmouth mogul may be very good at saying words, but coherence and consistency sometimes elude him. Especially when he gets beyond his comfort zone of extolling his own phenomenal awesomeness and calling America’s leaders stupid and the leaders of China and Mexico — the new axis of evil — smart and cunning.
After that, it gets foggy.
Consider his signature issue of immigration, where the incendiary words and stalwart tone evidently are a smoke screen for a poorly conceived amnesty scheme.
In a CNN interview, Trump outlined an amnesty via temporary deportation: “I would get people out, and I would have an expedited way of getting them back into the country so they can be legal.” How would the federal government, which can’t run the immigration system we already have, manage mass relocations of millions of people presumably to their countries of origin, only to be vetted and returned to the United States forthwith? “It’s feasible if you know how to manage. Politicians don’t know how to manage.” Oh.
As for so-called Dreamers, Trump has considered the matter very carefully: “We’re going to do something. I’ve been giving it so much thought. You know, you have, on a humanitarian basis, you have a lot of deep thought going into this, believe me. I actually have a big heart. … But the Dreamers, it’s a tough situation. We’re going to do something. And one of the things we’re going to do is expedite. When somebody is terrific, we want them back here. They have to be legally.”
There you have it — an immigration priority of the Trump administration will be legalizing “terrific” Dreamers after they’ve been deported/re-imported, on an expedited basis, of course. For this, we need a populist revolution?
It is a testament to Trump’s tenuous grasp on the most basic matters that he can take a crystal-clear conservative priority, defunding Planned Parenthood, and make it a head-scratching hash of seeming contradictions.
He told radio-show host Hugh Hewitt that he would be willing to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood.
Then he told Chris Cuomo of CNN that he might defund only Planned Parenthood’s abortion business, not the rest of it: “I would look at the good aspects of it.”
Of course, since it is notionally only Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion services that get funded, this sounded like an endorsement of the status quo — and earned him a pat on the head by Planned Parenthood. Asked to clarify by Sean Hannity on Fox News, he said, “We have to look at the positives also for Planned Parenthood,” before allowing that “maybe unless they stop with the abortions, we don’t do the funding for the stuff that we want.”
Maybe? Finally, he released a statement saying he opposed funding Planned Parenthood as long as it performs abortions — which it should have been within his power to make clear during his other exchanges over the issue.
My colleague Jonah Goldberg famously described Mitt Romney as speaking conservatism as if it’s a second language. Trump speaks it as if he needs help from a translator. He told Hannity the other night of the glories of health savings accounts, a market-oriented reform, even though he had praised socialized systems in Canada and Scotland (why not all of Great Britain?) in the debate.
One lesson of the success of the Trump-for-president campaign is that as long as you are not making sense with great certainty and forcefulness, no one will care much that you aren’t making sense. For now, it’s part of the genius of Trump as communicator.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org