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Monday, June 12, 2017

Judd Gregg: Trump the rebel must learn to govern

Judd Gregg: Trump the rebel must learn to govern
By Judd Gregg - 06-12-17 06:00 AM EDT

The more President Trump says "make America great again," the less we seem to be headed in that direction.

It seems that, as in Charles Dickens's Christmas Carol, a ghost visits the president in the middle of the night. The difference is that in his case, the ghost is not showing Christmases past; rather, it urges him to express his many frustrations.

The ghost does not speak on behalf of the better angels of our nation. At times, it gives voice to foolish commentary that erodes the stature of the office of president.

One can understand the president's anger, especially about his treatment by the mainstream media. But it is a lot harder to comprehend why his tweets and statements, rather than simply making his points, are consistently delivered in a tone that is self-destructive.

Being president is the most challenging political job in the world. But one of the keys to success is a capacity to exhibit self-discipline and control over your message and your actions.

This, he has not accomplished.

It may be that as a revolutionary - which is what his campaign sought to project him as - he is unable to transition into governing.

Our history has some stark examples of such failures. Patrick Henry and Sam Adams were both effective revolutionaries but were not able to succeed at the more mundane elements of governing.

They were, therefore, dropped from the governance of the new nation by the other founders, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and even John Adams.

The current president ran as a populist firebrand. Not since Andrew Jackson have we had a president who so aggressively embraced a course so far outside the accepted norm.

He put aside the trappings of conventional behavior and marketed a distinctly different style and approach than that of his predecessors.

This is why many people voted for him. His expressions of disgust with all things Washington reflected many Americans' loss of confidence in our political class.

It was a winning formula. It was totally different. It was, in fact, revolutionary.

But now he must execute on his themes. In some areas, he has had success. He has surrounded himself with a uniquely strong cabinet. He appointed an exceptional judge to the Supreme Court. His goals on fiscal policy make sense.

But as of this time, just five months into his presidency, he is on the verge of making himself irrelevant.

His cause of making America great again is floundering, not because of opposition to his policies or because of "fake news."

No, the problem is the incoherence and inconsistency he exhibits.

His tweets, which are often uniquely and arbitrarily insulting to many, including our allies, are put forth in a manner that verges on irrational and is many times uninformed.

He calls on the Republican leadership in the Senate, for example, to change the rules of the upper chamber so that healthcare and tax reform can be passed with just 51 votes - apparently not knowing that this is already the procedural status of those bills in the Senate.

He drops the most important line from his NATO speech - one that would have reaffirmed our commitment to Article Five, which calls on the members of the alliance to defend one another from outside attacks.

According to multiple reports, the sentence was dropped unilaterally, without informing Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson or national security advisor H.R. McMaster, all of whom had worked diligently to get the proper phrasing in.

This apparently haphazard decision only fomented confusion as to America's purpose.

Generating confusion is not a track that leads to making America great again. Rather, it takes us down a road that diminishes our international reputation.

The list of misstatements and gyrating policies goes on and on. It is leading to a time when little the president says or does will be viewed as reliable or constructive by most Americans or by the world community.

It may be that the president is incapable of transitioning from being a self-proclaimed revolutionary to a governing president.

We may have elected a Patrick Henry or Sam Adams - someone who can still stir the pot but does not know how to use it to cook a good meal to deliver a stronger and better nation.

However, this president is a smart guy formed in the crucible of New York City.

He has a history of mutating both his positions and his style. He needs to get past the ghosts who speak to him late at night and listen to those around him who want him to succeed.

The clock is running. The opportunity to fundamentally improve our government and our world standing is being frittered away.

If this president does not become more disciplined in his approach, then he will only confirm a fact that history has already taught us: Some revolutionaries simply are not up to governing.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill. 

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