Donald Trump is a unique public speaker.
He knows how to excite and entertain the crowd before him better than most. He can sense what will titillate. He knows how to creep right up to the edge of saying something truly bombastic, and leave just enough wiggle room to squirm out of in case his japes go south.
It’s been a profitable racket thus far: If he says something out of line and it goes over well, he means it. (He claims to be telling it like it is.) If it falls flat on its face, he was only kidding. (He claims it was all in good fun and the rest of us stiffs need to lighten up.) His fans are willing to give him an endless amount of leeway as far as which is which.
In this way, Trump’s statements are like a Rorschach test for his loyal followers. They see exactly what they want to in them, and disregard the rest.
For the rest of us, though, this is a concerning state of affairs — especially given the fact that this man has a very real possibility of attaining the highest office in the land.
Take his statement Tuesday at a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, as just the latest example of this phenomenon.
“Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment,” he told the crowd. “By the way, and if she gets to pick — if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”
Was this a joke? Was he being serious? Trump intentionally left this opaque, even if the Secret Service didn’t find the suggestion of the murder of a political opponent very humorous.
It really doesn’t matter, his intentions. Presidents doesn’t just speak to the rabble in front of them — they speak to the entire world. A true leader needs to know his audience.
At his core, Trump is an entertainer, not a politician. The job qualifications for those two careers require wildly different temperaments. Trump seems unwilling or unable to make this distinction.