The only thing Donald Trump is consistent about? Being Donald Trump.
Posted January 21, 2019 3:29 p.m. EST
CNN — The most important thing to understand about Donald Trump is that, well, he's always been like this. From the time he became a major player in New York real estate until this very second, he's always been the exact same guy: Obsessed within winning, certain of his own greatness, unapologetic about those he steps on to achieve his goals and hyper-aware of what people are saying about him.
"He hasn't changed at all," Jack O'Donnell, who ran a casino for Trump in the 1980s, told The New York Times in an exquisite piece that gets at Trump's remarkable consistency at being Trump. "And it's only people who have been around him through the years who realize that."
The Times piece, written by Russ Buettner and Maggie Haberman, delves into a series of anecdotes from Trump's life as a developer -- my favorite of which is this, about the construction of a Trump casino:
"Mr. Trump liked very high ceilings, according to the account. He screamed and cursed when he was told some ceilings had to be low to allow for pipes. He begrudgingly acquiesced. But he had forgotten by the time he next visited the construction site. He cursed again. Was reminded again. To the bewilderment of his executives, that cycle repeated itself several times.
"Finally, toward the end of construction, Mr. Trump reamed an executive with vulgarities, leapt up and punched a hole in one of the low ceilings."
What the Times story overall makes clear is that Trump has never -- and will never -- change in any meaningful way. Not when he won the Republican nomination, not when he was elected President, not in his first two years in office and certainly not in the second half of his first term. Like Popeye, he is who he is.
Of course, Trump has occasionally nodded at the idea that a change was coming.
Remember this one from April 2017? "The campaign is evolving and transitioning, and so am I," he told the Wall Street Journal. "I'll be more effective and more disciplined."
Soon after that, Trump told the Today Show, "I will be so presidential you will be so bored. You'll say, 'Can't he have a little more energy?'"
Nothing changed. Trump bullied his political opponents. He savaged the media as "fake." He questioned the motivations of a Gold Star family. He forced his underlings to make the ludicrous claim that he had garnered the largest inauguration crowd of any president ever. He suggested that the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia was the result of wrong on both sides. And on and on and on.
By 2017, Trump seemed to have given up on the whole just-watch-maybe-I-will-become-super-presidential thing.
"My use of social media is not Presidential - it's MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL," he tweeted in July 2017. "Make America Great Again!"
In March 2018, at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, Trump openly mocked the idea of acting presidential.
"You know how easy it is to be presidential," he asked the crowd. "But you'd all be out of here. You'd be so bored."
He then preceded to move woodenly around the stage while declaring himself "very presidential."
There's no question that some of what Trump is doing here is on purpose: He knows that his base hates politicians and that the more he acts like one, the less authentic they will perceive him as. (At Trump's rally in Pennsylvania last year, you can hear a woman in the crowd shout, "You're one of us!" as Trump begins his anti-presidential riff.)
But, the bigger part of all of this is that Trump simply can't help himself. The braggadocio, the self-celebration, the hyperbole, the need to "win" at all costs -- it's always been there. It's who he is. Whether that came from his father, his mentor Roy Cohn, his own life experiences or some combination of all three is sort of beside the point.
And the point is this: There is no Trump 2.0. No pivot. No turning over of a new leaf. There is no Trump but Trump.