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Imagine a Sane Donald Trump

The Wall Street Journal logo The Wall Street Journal 10/20/2016 Peggy Noonan

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Look, he’s a nut and you know he’s a nut. I go to battleground states and talk to anyone, everyone. They all know Donald Trump’s a nut. Some will vote for him anyway. Many are in madman-versus-criminal mode, living with (or making) their final decision. They got the blues. Everyone does. They’re worried about the whole edifice: If this is where we are, where are we going?

I get the Reagan fantasy—big guy with a nonstandard résumé comes in from the outside, cleans out the stables, saves the day. But it’s a fantasy and does not apply to this moment. I get the Jacksonian fantasy—crude, rude populist comes in from the hinterlands and upends a decadent establishment to the huzzahs of normal people with mud on their boots. But it’s a fantasy, and doesn’t apply.

Because he’s not a grizzled general who bears on his face the scars of a British sword, and not a shining citizen-patriot. He’s a screwball. Do you need examples? You do not, because you’re already thinking of them. For a year you’ve been observing the TV funhouse that is his brain.

I offer an observation from Newt Gingrich, Trump friend and supporter, on David Drucker’s Washington Examiner podcast. Mr. Gingrich lauded Mr. Trump because he “thinks big” and is a transformational character. But he spoke too of Trump’s essential nature. The GOP nominee “reacts very intensely, almost uncontrollably” to “anything which attacks his own sense of integrity or his own sense of respectability.” “There’s . . . a part of his personality that sometimes gets involved in petty things that make no sense.” He found it “frankly pathetic” that Mr. Trump got mad because Paul Ryan didn’t call to congratulate him after the second debate.

Mr. Gingrich said he hopes this will change. But people don’t change the fundamentals of their nature at age 70.

Mr. Trump’s great historical role was to reveal to the Republican Party what half of its own base really thinks about the big issues. The party’s leaders didn’t know! They were shocked, so much that they indulged in sheer denial and made believe it wasn’t happening.

The party’s leaders accept more or less open borders and like big trade deals. Half the base does not! It is longtime GOP doctrine to cut entitlement spending. Half the base doesn’t want to, not right now! Republican leaders have what might be called assertive foreign-policy impulses. When Mr. Trump insulted George W. Bush and nation-building and said he’d opposed the Iraq invasion, the crowds, taking him at his word, cheered. He was, as they say, declaring that he didn’t want to invade the world and invite the world. Not only did half the base cheer him, at least half the remaining half joined in when the primaries ended.

The Republican Party will now begin the long process of redefining itself or continue its long national collapse. This is an epochal event. It happened because Donald Trump intuited where things were and are going.

Since I am more in accord with Mr. Trump’s stands than not, I am particularly sorry that as an individual human being he’s a nut.

Which gives rise to a question, for me a poignant one.

What if there had been a Sane Donald Trump?

Oh my God, Sane Trump would have won in a landslide.

Sane Donald Trump, just to start, would look normal and happy, not grim and glowering. He would be able to hear and act on good advice. He would explain his positions with clarity and depth, not with the impatient half-grasping of a notion that marks real Donald Trump’s public persona.

© Chad Crowe

Sane Donald Trump would have looked at a dubious, anxious and therefore standoffish Republican establishment and not insulted them, diminished them, done tweetstorms against them. Instead he would have said, “Come into my tent. It’s a new one, I admit, but it’s yuge and has gold faucets and there’s a place just for you. What do you need? That I be less excitable and dramatic? Done. That I not act, toward women, like a pig? Done, and I accept your critique. That I explain the moral and practical underpinnings of my stand on refugees from terror nations? I’d be happy to. My well-hidden secret is that I love everyone and hear the common rhythm of their beating hearts.”

Sane Donald Trump would have given an anxious country more ease, not more anxiety. He would have demonstrated that he can govern himself. He would have suggested through his actions, while still being entertaining, funny and outsize, that yes, he understands the stakes and yes, since America is always claiming to be the leader of the world—We are No. 1!—a certain attendant gravity is required of one who’d be its leader.

Sane Donald Trump would have explained his immigration proposals with a kind of loving logic—we must secure our borders for a host of serious reasons, and here they are. But we are grateful for our legal immigrants, and by the way, if you want to hear real love for America then go talk to them, for they experience more freshly than we what a wonderful place this is. In time, after we’ve fully secured our borders and the air of emergency is gone, we will turn to regularizing the situation of everyone here, because Americans are not only kindly, they’re practical, and want everyone paying taxes.

Sane Donald Trump would have spoken at great and compelling length of how the huge, complicated trade agreements created the past quarter-century can be improved upon with an eye to helping the American worker. Ideology, he might say, is the pleasant diversion of the unworried, but a nation that no longer knows how to make steel cannot be a great nation. And we are a great nation.

Sane Donald Trump would have argued that controlling entitlement spending is a necessary thing but not, in fact, this moment’s priority. People have been battered since the crash, in many ways, and nothing feels stable now. Beyond that no one right now trusts Washington to be fair and wise in these matters. Confidence-building measures are necessary. Let’s take on the smaller task of turning around Veterans Affairs and see if we can’t make that work.

Sane Donald Trump would have known of America’s hidden fractures, and would have insisted that a healthy moderate-populist movement cannot begin as or devolve into a nationalist, identity-politics movement. Those who look down on other groups, races or religions can start their own party. He, the famous brander, would even offer them a name: the Idiot Party.

Sane Donald Trump would not treat the political process of the world’s greatest democracy as if it were, as somebody said, the next-to-last episode of a reality-TV series. That’s the episode that leaves you wondering how the season will end—who will scream, who will leave the drunken party in a huff, who will accuse whom of being a w---e. I guess that’s what “I’ll keep you in suspense” as to whether he’ll accept the election result was about. We’re being teed up. The explosive season finale is Nov. 8. Maybe he’ll leave in a huff. Maybe he’ll call everyone w----s.

Does he know he’s playing with fire? No. Because he’s a nut.

Sane Donald Trump for president. Too bad he doesn’t exist.

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