One of the pleasures of watching a Donald Trump campaign speech is the glaringly obvious contrast between his written remarks and his frequent, rambling riffs. Trump reading from the text is stilted and halting, often mispronouncing unfamiliar words (“seq-wes-chure?” he sputtered, trying to pronounce sequester), while the free-form Trump is the familiar authentic narcissist.
What made his speech to CPAC especially entertaining was the fact that the tonal contrast between his written and extemporaneous remarks mirrored a substantive contrast. The formal text was designed to position the president as an outsider-populist. But Trump kept interrupting his own speech with anecdotes that destroyed his own premise. “The GOP will be, from now on, the party also of the American worker,” he vowed, articulating one of the speech’s primary intended themes. “We will not answer to donors or lobbyists or special interests.”
Trump interspersed this bold promise with stories about him answering to donors, lobbyists, and special interests.
Here is Trump in this same speech boasting about his meeting with a bunch of large companies:
In fact, I think I did more than any other pre-president, they say president-elect. President-elect is meeting with Ford, Chrysler, with General Motors, I just wanted to save a little time. Because Ford and Fiat, Chrysler, General Motors, Sprint, Intel, and so many little others…
Here is Trump, again in the same speech, boasting about meeting with an even larger group of executives, where they “came to a lot of very good conclusions”:
Yesterday I had 29 of the biggest business leaders in the world in my office, Caterpillar, Campbell’s soup, we had everybody. We had everybody. I like Campbell’s Soup. We had everybody. And we came to a lot of very good conclusions and a lot of folks in the room will be building big, big, massive new plants and lots of jobs and building them in this country, not in some other country.
And here is Trump recounting his meeting with a corporate executive who hired lobbyists to win pipeline approval. The point of Trump’s story is that Trump gave the executive the exact policy outcome he had hired lobbyists to engineer:
Can you imagine, I told this story the other day. Can you imagine the gentleman never met him, don’t know the name of his company, I sort of know it, I want to get it exactly correct. Big, big powerful company. They spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the pipeline, same with Dakota, difference place, got approval and everything in the case of Dakota and they couldn’t connect it because they had people protesting that never showed up before. With the Keystone, they spent hundreds of millions of dollars with block sucker consultants sucking the blood out of the company. Don’t worry, I used them all my life, don’t worry, we will get it approved, I’m connected, I’m a lobbyist, don’t worry. Bottom line, Obama didn’t sign it. Could be 42,000 jobs somewhere around there, a lot of jobs. Didn’t sign it. Can you imagine, he gave up. It was dead. Now he’s doing nothing, calling his wife, hello, darling, I’m bored, that pipeline, that has killed us, killed our company. Knock, knock, mr. So-and-so, the Keystone pipeline, sir, out of nowhere has just been approved. Now can you imagine the expression and you know the sad part, the same blood-sucking consultants that hit him for all the money that failed will go back to him and say, didn’t we do a great job, we want more money. Right? That is the way the system works, a little bit off, but that is the way the system works.
“That is the way the system works.” That sentence perfectly captures the authentic Trump view of the world — the view of the man who has donated to politicians of both parties, treated all policy as transactional, and disregarded any moral currency other than power or wealth. Trump can read populist denunciations of the system, but he doesn’t actually believe them. Not only does he see nothing wrong with a system in which wealthy, powerful people meet with him and he delivers them policy favors, his central role in the process strikes him as evidence of his own power and success. He is boasting about it because he cannot imagine it would reflect anything other than his own greatness. Trump is not a sophisticated enough thinker to grasp the contradiction between the character he is supposed to be performing in public and the actual role he keeps confessing.