Trump’s Trust Deficit

Carl Hulse has an article in the New York Times that will have a lot of people rolling their eyes, particularly the supporters of Donald Trump. The piece is about Trump’s lack of relationships with the Republican Establishment in Washington DC. And, while Hulse acknowledges that this is almost the point of Trump’s appeal, the main idea is that it is a real liability for him now that he needs to unite the party. It would also make it quite a challenge to assemble a cabinet and to actually govern once in office.

There was one aspect of Hulse’s article that caught me eye. It came in a section that noted that Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has never even met Trump and has no idea what to make of him.

The practitioners of politics at such rarefied heights are usually part of a relatively small universe: governors, senators, House members, cabinet secretaries, top elected state officials, operatives, advisers and big-money donors, among others. They tend to know or at least know of one another from years of rubbing shoulders at national and state conventions, myriad political dinners, campaigns, National Governors Association meetings, or wheeling and dealing in Congress. Even Ross Perot, who ran an independent campaign for president in 1992 with no elective experience, had broad dealings with the federal government over several decades.

As Mr. Alexander put it, “I have been to a lot of things over 40 years.”

That experience and track record provide those in the political world a working knowledge of whether candidates are true to their word, are willing to compromise, know the subject matter, can keep a confidence — all among the important things to weigh in making political judgments.

Two parts of that are worth considering. Does Donald Trump keep his word and can he keep a confidence?

Go back to last July, and remember when Trump got angry with Senator Lindsey Graham and gave out his phone number to the public.

Speaking in front of hundreds at a rally in South Carolina on Tuesday, Donald Trump read a number he said people could use to reach South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s private cell phone.

Trump and Graham have engaged in an ongoing feud in the past few days as they battle for the Republican presidential nomination. In Trump’s speech Tuesday, he called Graham an “idiot,” after Graham called him a “jackass,” in an interview Monday with CNN’s Kate Bolduan.

Senator Graham tried to make the best of it.

What made the incident damaging for Graham wasn’t so much the inconvenience of having to get a new phone. It was Trump’s explanation for why he had Graham’s phone number in the first place.

Trump said Graham gave him the number a few years ago when he called to ask for a campaign donation and a “good reference” at Fox News, where Trump is a frequent guest. He then held up a yellow piece of paper with a phone number with the Washington, D.C., area code written on it.

“Give it a shot,” Trump said. “Your local politician, you know? He won’t fix anything but at least he’ll talk to you.”

That aggressive take-no-prisoners style on the campaign trail helped Trump demolish weaklings like Sen. Graham, but it also revealed that on a very basic level he cannot be trusted to keep a confidence. If you make yourself vulnerable to him, he will put it in the bank and keep it in reserve for a day when he can use it against you.

That makes it difficult to deal with him in a candid way or in any genuine sense of real partnership.

Now, whether he can keep his word is a related but somewhat different consideration.

The indications are that his word is only good for the length of a cable news segment interview. He may come back tomorrow and explain that he was just negotiating and that he likes to be unpredictable. He may say that he was only throwing some ideas out there and that nothing is fixed in stone.

What happens when Trump sits down with you, makes a commitment, and shakes your hand?

Does he honor that kind of agreement?

Why don’t you ask all the contractors he’s bilked out of money by using the bankruptcy courts or just by simply refusing to pay in full? Ask the New Jersey Casino Control Commission who sat there when he promised that he would never use junk bonds to finance his Atlantic City deals.

Donald Trump is one of the most litigious people in the country both because he uses the courts to help him break his word and because other people have to resort to the courts to make him keep his word. And let’s not forget that he also gets hauled into court for outright fraud. If he’s elected, he’ll be the first president-elect to go on trial for fraud before he can even be sworn in.

U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel on Friday scheduled trial for Nov. 28 in the suit that alleges people who paid up to $35,000 for real estate seminars got defrauded. The likely Republican nominee planned to attend most, if not all, of the trial and would testify, Trump attorney Daniel Petrocelli said…

…The lawsuit is one of three that accuse Trump University of fleecing students with unfulfilled promises to teach secrets of success in real estate.

The San Diego suit says Trump University, which no longer operates and was not accredited as a school, gave seminars and classes across the country that were like infomercials, constantly pressuring students to buy more and, in the end, failing to deliver.

A San Diego judge named Gonzalo Curiel sounds like a guy Trump and his supporters would like to deport. That could add a little extra tension to the courtroom, don’t you think?

In any case, it’s not a perception problem for Trump that he doesn’t have good, trusting relationships with other Republicans. But it’s still going to hurt his campaign. People who don’t agree with you might go to work for you anyway, but probably not if they don’t feel you can be trusted on any level.

Trump’s a charlatan, which most folks from New York and New Jersey have known for decades. I don’t think getting to know him better is going to put anyone’s mind at ease.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.