Trump’s cham­pion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - John Brum­mett John Brum­mett, whose col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette, was in­ducted into the Arkansas Writ­ers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrum­mett@arkansason­line.com. Read his @john­brum­mett Twit­ter feed.

On the morn­ing af­ter In­de­pen­dence Day, I strolled into the gro­cery store to get tooth­paste. I ran smack-dab into Don­ald Trump’s most cred­i­ble Arkansas cham­pion, who was check­ing out an over­flow­ing cart.

Bud Cum­mins has been a nar­rowly failed Repub­li­can con­gres­sional can­di­date, a long-suf­fer­ing staff coun­sel for Gov. Mike Huck­abee, a hang­ing-chad mon­i­tor in Florida for Ge­orge W. Bush, and a U.S. at­tor­ney.

He was Trump’s cam­paign chair­man in Arkansas last year. He’s emerged on na­tional talk shows—on Fox, I should stip­u­late—as a vig­or­ous de­fender of the pres­i­dent.

Cum­mins has be­come one of my fa­vorite Arkansas Repub­li­cans, given as he is to a healthy dis­dain for the dys­func­tional malarkey our pol­i­tics has be­come.

And that was his pre­cise point when I shook his hand and said, “Bud—what’s the mat­ter with you? You’re too good a man to be say­ing what you’re say­ing.”

What he has been say­ing is that the Amer­i­can me­dia is ridicu­lous and fraud­u­lent and that Trump is a wor­thy pres­i­dent.

Here’s how Bud an­swered my rather pre­sump­tu­ous ques­tion, ac­knowl­edg­ing as I re­late his re­sponse that I wasn’t tak­ing notes or mak­ing a record­ing, but as­sur­ing you I’ve run this by him be­fore pub­lish­ing:

He said he’d come af­ter all th­ese years to deem pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of politi­cians’ be­hav­ior as ir­rel­e­vant. He’s known too many politi­cians who pub­licly bur­nished ad­mirable per­sonal rep­u­ta­tions but who were ut­ter frauds.

He ap­plies that same dis­re­gard, in the in­verse, to Trump, who be­haves pub­licly in ways Cum­mins wouldn’t. But he says Trump is “unique and some­what trans­par­ent.”

We all tend to view pres­i­dents by our per­son­ally un­in­formed per­cep­tions based on whether we agree with them, he said.

(I think that’s true. If you agreed with or liked Hil­lary Clin­ton, then you thought the email mat­ter overblown. If you agree with or like Trump, then you think the Rus­sian mat­ter overblown. Par­ti­sans could and would switch that around as needed.)

The only thing that re­ally mat­ters amid the pre­vail­ing dis­hon­esty of modern po­lit­i­cal im­agery, Cum­mins said, is per­for­mance. He says his sup­port for Trump will have been well-placed if the bor­ders are se­cure and ISIS ef­fec­tively re­sisted and taxes low­ered and the economy strong.

He sees an Amer­i­can me­dia ob­sess­ing on wholly un­sub­stan­ti­ated al­le­ga­tions of Trump’s com­plic­ity in Rus­sian be­hav­ior and on tweets from this pres­i­dent that—again— Bud wouldn’t tweet him­self.

I was left pon­der­ing what Cum­mins had said.

Richard Nixon was a tor­mented, para­noid and dis­hon­est man who went to China and pur­sued de­tente with the Soviet Union and cre­ated the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

Jimmy Carter was a vir­tu­ous man and a fail­ure in his time in of­fice.

Bill Clin­ton was a phi­lan­derer who could lie eas­ily, but was un­com­monly smart, un­canny in his abil­ity to con­nect with peo­ple gen­uinely, and a gen­er­ally suc­cess­ful pres­i­dent.

Ge­orge W. Bush was an ami­able back-slap­ping sonofa­gun who made a bit of a mess of things as pres­i­dent.

Barack Obama was the ex­cep­tion as both a good man and good pres­i­dent, which no one in Arkansas wants to hear, which is why it’s im­por­tant I say it.

Whither, thus, Trump?

He is a demon­stra­bly low-cal­iber hu­man be­ing who spouts un­truth and ut­ter non­sense as a mat­ter of course and en­gages con­sis­tently in nar­cis­sis­tic, ego-dis­or­dered slan­der and crude per­sonal as­sault against those who chal­lenge him.

But it’s early in his pres­i­dency, and Amer­ica still stands with an im­prov­ing economy.

There are two fac­tors to con­sider in de­ter­min­ing whether Bud’s stan­dard of pres­i­den­tial judg­ment can ap­ply in this case.

One is that, among other fail­ings, Trump demon­strates no abil­ity to gov­ern and no guid­ing prin­ci­ple other than an ob­ses­sion with suc­ceed­ing for the sake of ego sat­is­fac­tion.

His po­si­tion on health care is that he wants a bill, any bill, that he can sign and by which he can say he re­pealed and re­placed Oba­macare. He is wholly de­pen­dent for pol­icy on the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McCon­nell, whom we did not elect, and whom he does not lead, but fol­lows, and whom he at times un­der­cuts with inane pub­lic pro­nounce­ment.

His hu­man fail­ings, as per­va­sive and ex­pan­sive as they are, might prove to be so in­or­di­nately rel­e­vant to his pres­i­den­tial per­for­mance that Bud’s rule of sep­a­ra­tion might not ap­ply.

In other words, his per­sonal unattrac­tive­ness might be too big to com­part­men­tal­ize.

The other fac­tor is whether moral stand­ing, or even a con­trived pub­lic face of it, is im­por­tant for the coun­try’s spir­i­tual well-be­ing and to our na­tion’s vi­tal place as a moral leader in a deeply trou­bled world.

In the end, will Trump’s pres­i­den­tial per­for­mance and the coun­try’s well-be­ing hinge at least in part on whether he can pre­tend to a bet­ter per­son?

I’m fa­vor­ably in­clined gen­er­ally to Bud’s point, but am con­cerned that, specif­i­cally, this pres­i­dent is so thor­oughly dis­taste­ful and in­cor­ri­gi­ble as to tran­scend all rules.

For the na­tion’s sake, the Cum­mins Rule needs to hold.

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