The Washington Post
Donald Trump learned a powerful lesson while running for president.
The rules don’t apply to me. Trump blew through one political stop sign after another as he sped recklessly past the competition; again and again, he burned rubber away from the feckless, doughnut- munching cops of the media, the swamp and academia. The rule about not calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” in your announcement speech? The rule about not attacking a war hero or a Gold Star family? The rule about releasing your tax returns, and the one about never, ever boasting of sexual assault while wearing a live microphone?
Trump squealed his tires and waved a one-finger salute.
But it appears the lesson was mistaken, for the long arm of political law is catching up to the president. That’s one of my takeaways from the special U.S. Senate election this last week in Alabama, where hogs sprouted wings, rivers ran backward and a Democrat won. Trump believed he could get away with flouting the political commandment that says Thou Shalt Not Endorse Accused Child Molesters. He thought his cloak of immunity was large enough to enfold Roy Moore, with room for Stephen Bannon left over.
The margin of victory for Democrat Doug Jones was - like Trump’s own victory last year - small in terms of ballots but huge in its implications. The last time that Senate seat was before the voters, the Republican ran unopposed and won 97 percent of the ballots. Last year, Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Alabama by almost 2 to 1. But when the president tried to hoist Moore into office, he found he had lost his pull. He tried tweeting; he tried rallying; he even bestowed his personal benediction on Moore. “He says it didn’t happen,” Trump observed in dismissing multiple accounts of sexual impropriety. The very same standard to which Trump holds himself.
It didn’t work.
You’d think a billionaire would know what every investment prospectus preaches: Past performance does not guarantee future results. And you’d think a TV star would understand the need to add layers and complexity to a protagonist over the course of a long-running series. Yet Trump persists in his one-dimensional role: rebel without a pause button.
A fascinating - and, for patriotic citizens, dispiriting - account of life inside the Trump White House by the New York Times recently disclosed that the amped-up monotony of this presidency is entirely intentional. From the start, Trump conceived of this drama as a relentless serial. “Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals.”
David Von Drehle writes a twice-weekly column for The Post. He was previously an editor-at-large for Time Magazine, and is the author of four books, including “Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year” and “Triangle: The Fire That Changed America.”