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.