Skip to main content

US politics

Trump is far shrewder than his critics think

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Donald Trump has always understood how the world works “better than his opponents”, says The Economist. Because he possesses such qualities in abundance, his appreciation for “greed, cowardice, selfishness and other weaknesses” has given him a “granite confidence” in human corruptibility. And across the decades of his life – whether as a New York property tycoon, a TV star or as President of the United States – “that faith has been vindicated more often than it has been confounded”. According to Maggie Haberman’s new biography, Confidence Man, Trump has always been “shrewd and smarter than his critics gave him credit for, possessed of a survival instinct that was likely unmatched in American political history”.

In the Trump White House, knowing that “allies as well as enemies must be dominated”, he “bullied and humiliated” senators and generals. “You’re losers and you’re babies,” he told America’s military leaders; he rewarded servile lawmakers by “tossing branded chocolate bars at them”. Haberman does not shy away from “the Good Trump”, who repeatedly checks on sick friends and is often “funny and fun to be around, solicitous and engaged”. People familiar with his all-caps tweeting and press persona who met him in the White House found him “calm and charming”. But in public, he knew his brand. During the 2020 campaign, a top advisor urged him to turn on the charm, “to persuade people that you’re not an asshole”. No, said Trump: voters “want a fighter”.