If you elect him, they will come.
The original line was from "Field of Dreams" but instead of a night-time queue of automobiles snaking towards a ballfield in rural Iowa, we’ve been seeing a parade of politicians, celebrities and business people at the elevators of Trump Tower, waiting for their moment with the president-elect. And the fact that this is occurring speaks to the gradual, reluctant acceptance of the one-time horrified that Donald Trump really is America’s next president. It tells us something else as well: Trump is quite effectively managing the interregnum between election and inauguration. Gone should be the suspicions and rumors that his run for the office was just a bid for business, a stalking horse for a new Trump-led television network or a lark gone awry. The guy is serious about being president.
The list of those who have made the visit is quite extraordinary.
Al Gore dropped by to discuss climate change, describing his talks as “lengthy and very productive... and a sincere search for common ground.”
Silicon Valley tech titans, including Apple’s Timothy Cook, Alphabet’s Larry Page, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos all made the trek to New York. Echoing Gore’s words, Bezos called the meeting “very productive.”
Others included Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour (an ardent Clinton supporter), Kanye West (the two met “to discuss multicultural issues”), football legend Jim Brown (“the graciousness, the intelligence, the reception we got was fantastic”), and Leonardo DiCaprio (the actor’s foundation said he was looking forward to a follow-up meeting in January).
And then, of course, there was Mitt Romney.
In March, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee had delivered a rip-roaring screed against Trump. “Let me put it very plainly,” he said. “If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.” He had trashed Trump’s domestic and foreign policies, and had trashed him personally as well. “Dishonesty is Donald Trump’s trademark,” Romney had declared, denouncing “the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, [and] the absurd third grade theatrics.” Trump, Romney had concluded, is “a con man,” “a fake,” and “a phony.”
And this is the same guy that Trump almost made his secretary of state.
There’s one theory that Trump was simply playing Romney, gaining revenge by getting Romney’s hopes up and then very publicly dashing them. But Romney clearly doesn’t believe that; in a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune, he wrote that he regarded his discussions with the president-elect “as a welcome sign that he will be open to alternative views and even to critics.”
The better theory? Through his meetings with Romney as well as others, Trump is working to broaden his base. He’s reaching out to one-time enemies, he’s attempting to bring folks into the fold, he’s trying to show that he is more than just his hard-core base. It’s a smart strategy. Trump may have won the Electoral College, but he only got 46 percent of the popular vote — almost three million votes fewer than Hillary Clinton. In the long run, effective governance requires more than that.
At the same time, Trump’s making sure his base remains happy. His deal with Carrier to “save” some jobs in Indianapolis may, in fact, have been more illusion than reality, but his intervention showed he cared about blue-collar workers. His threat to cancel a new generation of Air Force One showed he wouldn’t blindly accept D.C. deal making. And his conversation with Taiwan’s president showed (for better or worse) that he’s not tied into the dogmas of the past.
It all seems to be working.
Back in October, only 29 percent of voters viewed Trump favorably, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Today, that figure is up to 41 percent. Other polls tracked by Real Clear Politics show the same trend. Granted, it’s not a majority, and the Wall Street Journal is quick to point out that “the nation remains more divided than is typical at the dawn of a new presidency.”
Still, Trump’s making strides.
And so begins the “normalization” of what many thought could never be normal.
This column was first published by Cognoscenti on December 21, 2016.