Political News

Donald Trump is our first pundit president, part 2

Posted November 2, 2017 2:15 p.m. EDT

— Earlier this week, I argued that Donald Trump is more pundit than president -- especially when it comes to handling major events or tragedies.

That is, he tends to speak before putting tons of thought into his comments -- or considering whether what he is saying can actually happen. He also tends to stake out the most controversial position -- whether or not the current facts back it up -- and then refuses to back down.

Well, he's at it again!

Just before midnight on Wednesday, President Trump tweeted this: "NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!"

He followed it up Thursday morning with this tweet: "There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!"

So. The president of the United States is saying that we should execute the alleged terrorist who killed eight people -- and injured a dozen more -- with a rented car in Manhattan on Tuesday. He didn't offer any specific adjustment to the legal system that would allow that to happen. He just said it. And that it should happen "quickly."

Let's consult my pundit guide to see if Trump's call for the death penalty fits the criteria:

See a major incident. √ React immediately -- and without all facts. √ Draw hard and fast conclusions -- without all the facts. √ Blame your political opponents. Cite other pundits who agree with you to bolster your point.

Trump aced the first three steps. And he has -- in the last 24 hours -- blamed New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, for creating the visa program that allowed the attacker into the US.

We are just missing "cite other pundits who agree with you to bolster your point" right now. And if past is prologue, sometime later tonight or tomorrow morning, Trump will do just that.

The simple fact is that -- time and time again -- Trump acts (and reacts) to situations in a way much more consistent with a pundit aiming for more airtime on Fox News Channel than the head of our country's government.

Before the President tweeted that the New York City attacker should be given the death penalty, there's virtually no chance that he considered how something like that would be done. Or the potential impact the president calling for the death penalty might have on the prosecution's ability to convince a judge or jury that the attacker is getting a fair trial.

Trump just thought to himself -- "we should get rid of this guy!!" -- and so that's what he said. And as usual, he left it to his staff to try to clean up. Asked about Trump's "death penalty" comments on Thursday, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that Trump was only expressing his desire to "secure the American people from this threat."

Which is fine. But it is not what Trump said. Or, really, what he meant.

So it goes with our first pundit president. Any expectation that Trump's more-pundit-than-president behavior will change misses the fact that his starting point in politics (and life) is cable TV. It's his information source, his ally and his enemy all rolled into one. It's the frame through which he not only sees the world but judges whether or not he is successful. (This Dylan Byers piece about an aide printing out screenshots of cable news for Trump is hugely revealing in that regard.)

Trump sees no real difference between pundit, politician and president. And that makes him unique from the 43 other men who have held the presidency before him.