It’s not a copout to say, “it depends on what you mean by 3-D chess.”

If you mean something so advanced and esoteric it’s the equivalent of Einstein’s Special Theory (in the political sense), I’d have to say “no.” But I don’t think that’s what it means. I find playing 3-D chess means having a good grasp of strategy and advanced gamesmanship while working on several levels at once.

I say that for several reasons. The first is how Trump beat the odds of getting elected in the first place. It confounded nearly all the pundits and prognosticators. He either did it through luck, chance, or skill; at the time it wasn’t obvious which it was (and it could have been a combination).

But a pattern began, and then that pattern kept repeating over time. One can only describe it this way: Trump does something that his enemies—and even some people who support him—criticize. There’s a big furor. The media reported that now he’s put his foot in his mouth and now he’s sunk himself for real. And yet, when the dust settles (and sometimes it settles rather quickly), we usually find that one or some or all of the following have occurred.

  • Trump didn’t say what they said he said.
  • His opponents do something in response to what he said that makes them look like the fools.
  • The public, in general responds by agreeing with Trump, which causes his polls to go up.

Strange, isn’t it, if he’s such a fool, that these things keep happening over and over and over? Can anyone have that much good luck? The pattern points to a different explanation, which is that he’s an excellent tactician and strategist who acts in ways that flummox people and tend to have a result ultimately favorable to him.

That doesn’t mean he’ll always win. Not everyone who plays 3-D chess wins, right? Trump could finally make that big misstep many keep predicting. He could lose the 2020 election even if he doesn’t make that slipup. With the entire MSM against him, often distorting his words in various ways, it’s amazing he has any approval. But either way, it appears that he’s playing an intelligent game, given the situation and given his own particular set of gifts.

What are those gifts? One is a specific gut-level intuition that has stood him well over a long life of negotiating and maneuvering. The other is his experience in the art of the deal: Knowing when to press, when to back off, the psychology of the other side, how to bob and weave to get to a goal. Trump’s been doing that sort of thing his entire life and wrote (with help, but the ideas were undoubtedly his) a book on it.

Most of his opponents don’t have that particular background. Most of them are skilled at politics as it’s usually played, but Trump doesn’t play that way. So he is more apt to confound them—and the pundits, too.

I’ll close with a passage from a recent article by Andrew C. McCarthy that sparked this post. Often I agree with McCarthy, and in this case, I agree with much of his material, but not this particular passage:

I don’t believe Trump is a master strategist who did this to force Speaker Pelosi and other mainstream Democrats, at their electoral peril, to embrace the radicals. That’s just the lemonade that Trump supporters are trying to make of the president’s never-ending supply of lemons.

But what degree of mental gymnastics would it take to imagine that forcing Pelosi to defend her radical flank was indeed Trump’s goal? Is that reasoning so twisted, so esoteric, so challenging to believe, knowing the man and his history? I think it’s a relatively obvious thing to do, particularly for someone like Trump who thinks along strategic lines. Trump supporters don’t have to strain very much to think of that explanation, plus in the past, an awful lot of Trump’s lemons have gone to make a pretty tasty and tangy beverage for those on the right to drink.

McCarthy adds something that is in some ways a lot more telling [emphasis mine]:

In any event, while it is beneath a president to carp in Trump’s juvenile way, I have less heartburn in principle with a president’s attacking radicalism than I do with a congresswoman’s claim that any criticism of her is an implicit criticism of immigrants, women, black people, etc.

McCarthy has a fascinating history regarding Trump, and it parallels that of a lot of people on the right. He didn’t like him to begin with and doesn’t like him now, and some of that is for stylistic reasons. But he has come to appreciate what Trump accomplishes, while still disliking what one might summarize as Trump’s style.

I don’t think the word “juvenile” actually applies here. Trump can sound somewhat juvenile at times, in the sense of issuing tweets that resemble schoolyard taunts. I don’t think the tweets under discussion here were one of those times, but let’s say for the sake of argument that they were. The question is whether they (or other tweets) reflect a juvenile mind and emotional makeup, or whether they are part of a decision Trump has made that this is an effective way for him to fight in the dirty and vicious game that is politics. I think it’s far more the latter.

Obama is a good contrast. He was strategic, too. But his overall style was to give at least the appearance of being lofty, intellectual, polished. Nevertheless he was more than willing to fight dirty, and he made no bones about it; after all, he’s the guy who said, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”

No, politics are not beanbag. It’s a bitter fight, and although for the most part, the weapons are rhetorical (at least in this country, at least so far), they are meant to destroy. Each politician deals with the givens dictated by his or her personality and style. Obama appeared to many people to have that academic thing going; some perceive Trump as the loudmouthed wheeler-dealer. But I submit that, at least so far, Trump has proved to be a better chess master than his opponents.

[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]

 
 
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