By Daniel Henninger
Feb. 22, 2017 7:19 p.m. ET
Donald Trump is right that the media is making a mountain out of every Trump molehill. Despite the “resistance,” it also remains true that most Americans want the Trump presidency to succeed.
These Trump Hopefuls, whose number includes people who didn’t vote for him, want the presidency to succeed because they understand that if it fails, the social and economic condition of their country will be in a bad place.
Despite this reservoir of goodwill for the Trump presidency, the degree of anxiety about it is palpable. You have to be living in Netflixed isolation not to have had conversations with people wondering what the hell is going on at this White House.
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Beyond the Beltway bubble, I think most people look upon the pitched battle between Mr. Trump and the news media as they would a playground fight between sixth-graders.
“He hit me first.”
“You hit first.”
“You’re a liar.”
“No, you’re the liar.”
Millions of Americans simply gape.
We could spend the next several years arguing whether Mr. Trump or the dishonest mainstream media started this, but a more productive question is, why is the mayhem happening?
It is happening mainly because the presidential campaign didn’t end last November. The political culture of the 2017 campaign endures inside the White House and among the press and the Trump opposition.
Presidential campaigns are an essential feature of the American political system—long, raucous, fiercely contested. But that glorious tumult is supposed to give way to the more substantial, harder politics of the presidency.
The permanent campaign has been with us a long time, and Barack Obama was the first president who didn’t disband his campaign operation after winning. But we’re in a different dimension today.
Propelled by new media, campaign politics has become a national addiction. It’s similar to the way people drive cars into trees because they can’t stop texting. No one will let go—not the tweeting president, not the surly press and not the hooked, agog public.
Still, there’s a political casualty waiting to happen inside the great American thrill ride—the presidency. Trump the president is looking like he’s trapped inside Trump the campaigner.
To be sure, the Trump presidential machine is executing the president’s orders and making fine appointments. The president’s downward ratchet on the vast Obama regulatory state is the main reason for the upward-bound stock market.
But Mr. Trump himself can revert in an instant to campaign mode—Hillary’s failures, voter fraud and past media transgressions. Or a Florida presidential rally that looks just like a Florida campaign rally. Bill Clinton once said that to win an election you do what you’ve gotta do. But are the tactics of a campaign transferrable to the daily life of a presidency?
Some will say the political world underestimated Donald Trump from day one. That’s true—but as a candidate. The presidency, by contrast, is one part of a large and complicated political system, complicated because the Founders wanted the process to be difficult and to require getting buy-in from unavoidably divided factions.
Mr. Trump and his White House are justified in wondering how it is their politics get hammered, while the factions of the alt-left are generally misrepresented as a benevolent children’s crusade.
A further Trump argument would be that they owe their distraught opposition nothing. That’s mostly true. It isn’t Mr. Trump’s responsibility to provide kumbaya solace to a political left whose street bullies turned Chuck Schumer into a progressive factotum.
The argument here isn’t that Donald Trump as president has to step up to “heal” a divided nation, not least because our age of limitless sentimentality has turned the phrase “heal the nation” into soap bubbles. But it’s obvious that the hyper-hot emotions in the country’s political life now are unsettling many normal people who don’t wish Mr. Trump ill.
There are risks, to the Trump presidency, its goals and the system itself, if the volatile personality-driven politics of the Trump campaign remain the norm for the 45th presidency.
Yes, we know it’s a populist movement. Populism, though, is what gets you elected. The president who tries to govern with populism inside the U.S.’s system of distributed, three-branch authority will fail.
There are going to be tough votes soon in Congress on the president’s tax bill, ObamaCare reform, a Dodd-Frank revision, the budget, infrastructure and the rest. That agenda, intended to raise the U.S. from its doldrums, is the reason so many different kinds of people want this presidency to succeed.
The Trump margin for delivering victory to these hopeful Americans is narrower than it should be. The president’s goals could falter or fail if enough Republicans running for election in 2020 decide their own needs require putting distance between themselves and the permanent volcano of the Trump White House. There will be no moral victories for a presidency that cannot produce 50 votes in the Senate.