Sure, he knew how to throw political punches better than most and how to keep his political opponents -- Republicans and Democrats -- off balance. But, if he actually won the office, there was real doubt about whether, in a diplomatic setting or in dealing with someone in his own party who didn't see things his way, Trump could adjust. Could he shift gears from attacking to cajoling or even empathizing? Did he have that in him?
Of course he did, Trump assured us all.
"At the right time, I will be so presidential that you'll call me and you'll say, 'Donald, you have to stop that," Trump told Sean Hannity in March.
"I will be so presidential you will be so bored," he said in an April 2016 appearance on NBC's "Today."
"You'll say, 'Can't he have a little more energy?'"
Here's the thing: He isn't. And no one is bored.
What's clear is that, as suspected, Trump has only one speed: Chaotic attack. You can draw a through-line from his attacks on Rosie O'Donnell way back in 2006
("A real loser. I look forward to taking lots of money from my nice fat little Rosie.") to his rhetoric this week on North Korea
and his tweeted attacks of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel
They are all evidence that Trump doesn't adjust himself to changing circumstances. He doesn't treat the dangerous leader of a rogue nation moving rapidly toward nuclear capability any differently than he does a comedian who suggested he was a "snake-oil salesman." He doesn't ease off on, say, a Gold Star family who attacks him any more than he would a presidential primary opponent who made insinuations about his hand size. He doesn't differentiate between attacking the leader of his party in the Senate and attacking a rank-and-file member of the Democratic minority.
Why not? Because Trump's world view is simple: There are people who are for him and people who are against him. There is no middle ground. And everyone in the world -- whether it's Rosie O'Donnell or Kim Jong Un -- fits into one of those two categories. There are the people who love Trump and the people who hate Trump. (If you love Trump, then Trump, generally speaking, loves you. And if you hate Trump, then, well, Trump hates you.)
That way of looking at the world and classifying people leaves no room for subtlety or nuance. Ronald Reagan's famous phrase "my 80% friend is not my 20% enemy," doesn't apply for Trump. For him, it's 100% or nothing at all.
What else explains his treatment of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the last 24 hours? In a trio of tweets, Trump questioned McConnell for his inability to pass health care reform through Congress.
On Wednesday afternoon, Trump tweeted
: "Senator Mitch McConnell said I had 'excessive expectations,' but I don't think so. After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?" Then, this morning, he tweeted a variation on that theme
: "Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn't get it done. Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!" And then, again, in the early afternoon
: "Mitch, get back to work and put Repeal & Replace, Tax Reform & Cuts and a great Infrastructure Bill on my desk for signing. You can do it!"
If there's strategy here -- aside from potentially distracting from the latest Russia investigation news -- it's hard to see it. McConnell didn't fail to pass a repeal and replace measure of the Affordable Care Act out of lack of effort. Or lack of attempts. The Kentucky Republican tried repeatedly to cobble together legislation that would win 50 Republican votes. It simply didn't happen.
Of course Trump is frustrated by that fact! Who wouldn't be, given that Republicans campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare for 7 years and then, when given the chance to do it, couldn't make it happen?
But, it's important to see the long game too. If Trump wants tax reform, immigration or maybe even funding for the border wall, he needs McConnell -- badly. Poisoning the well right now makes zero strategic sense.
Unless, that is, you only have one speed and that speed is chaotic attacking on all fronts at all times. Trump always uses a sledgehammer. Sometimes, though, you need a ball-peen hammer. He seems to not grasp or not care about those differences.
How does this -- any of it -- end? Who knows.
But, think about if you only ran your car in 5th gear all the time. It would stall out some times and overwork the engine at others. Sure, there would be times where the car ran just fine. But, over time, a car isn't meant to go only one speed in one gear. Same for a president.